NYC plastic bag fee moratorium signed by Gov. Cuomo

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed state legislation Tuesday that will delay an impending disposable bag fee in New York City.

Calling the City Council’s legislation “deeply flawed,” Cuomo said that while the city – and the entire state – is grappling with how best to solve the environmental issue of plastic bag use, the bill offered too much of a financial windfall to businesses who keep the fee.

“Most objectionable is that the law was drafted so that merchants keep the 5-cent fee as profit, instead of the money being used to solve the problem of plastic bags’ environmental impact – essentially amounting to a $100 million per year windfall to merchants,” Cuomo said in a lengthy statement released Tuesday. “There are two possible rationales for New York City’s bill providing the fee to profit the merchants: political expediency or legal impossibility.”

Shortly after the bill passed in the City Council, state lawmakers drafted legislation to halt the implementation of the bill for one year. That legislation was passed by the state Assembly on Feb. 7, 2017, and sent to Cuomo for consideration.

Cuomo said in the statement Tuesday he believes that the council bill was an “earnest attempt at a real solution,” but that $100 million was too high of a price to pay for the political support of city business owners.

At the same time, “If the city was not empowered to allow a fee to go to a government entity as it exceeds their legal authority, then that necessitates state action. In either case, the windfall profit to private entities is unjustifiable and unnecessary,” Cuomo said.

The bill was seen as a way to encourage use of re-usable totes and other bags and reduce the number of plastic bags that can swirl around in the breeze and pollute streets, parks and waterways.

Cuomo’s action is another blow to Mayor Bill de Blasio in a continuing feud as Albany reasserted its legislative power, which opponents claim is an overreach into local affairs.

“I am establishing a statewide task force to develop a uniform state plan for addressing the plastic bag problem,” Cuomo said in the statement. “By the end of this year, this task force will conclude with a report and proposed legislation.”

While some state lawmakers, including Assemb. Dov Hikind, applauded the governor’s move, council members who championed the 5-cent fee expressed disappointment.

“We fought plastic bags, and for now, plastic bags won,” council members Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn) and Margaret Chin (D-Manhattan) said in a joint statement. “It is disappointing that the state Legislature and the governor killed NYC’s ‘Bring Your Own Bag Law,’ which was democratically adopted by the City Council after two years of hearings, reviewing evidence, reusable bag giveaways, and public debate.”

Chin and Landers argued that by leaving similar legislation in Nassau and Suffolk counties alone, “the Legislature has put in jeopardy the basic concept of ‘home rule.'”

-With Michael Gormley