America's independent, non-partisan advocate for overburdened taxpayers.


Oppose the Bag Ban and Tax!
Don’t Eliminate Shoppers’ Choices

June 3, 2010

Dear Senator:

     On behalf of the National Taxpayers Union's 52,000-plus members in California, I urge you to oppose AB 1998 if the Senate considers it. The bill would prohibit plastic grocery bags outright and impose a five-cent-per-unit tax on paper shopping bags, resulting in a $1 billion tax increase on Californians. In the midst of this recession, a massive tax hike and fewer ways to carry groceries is the last thing the residents of your state need.

     AB 1998 would punish all Californians for simply shopping, and would limit their options for carrying groceries home. Politicians should not be in the business of making routine personal decisions for consumers, especially by dictating such choices through higher taxes (or draconian bans) on products they deem undesirable. Plastic bags offer consumers an advantage in terms of volume and durability. A typical plastic bag weighs 4-5 grams, but can hold up to 17 pounds. Moreover, paper bags are dual-use products, which provide everything from extra storage in the home to material for elementary school art projects.

     Although currently fashionable among the political elite, grocery bag taxes and bans have dubious value as policies. The Tax Foundation reports that bag taxes, like other "sin taxes," fail to produce the promised revenues. A recently enacted grocery bag tax in Washington, D.C. raised only $150,000 after four months of use, even though it was touted as the funding source for what is envisioned as a multi-million-dollar cleanup of the Anacostia River. The fact of the matter is that as the price of a good increases, consumers either buy less of the good or, more likely, seek the good from another, cheaper source. What's more, the less costly good may be of lower quality and, ironically, may be more damaging to the environment. Additionally, both paper and plastic bags are easily recycled and reused. A study by the Northwest Economic Policy Seminar reported that a bag tax imposed by Seattle has done little to reduce landfill deposits. What the new laws have done is open municipalities to expensive litigation.

     California faces serious fiscal problems, and the state needs to undertake equally serious reforms. That said, the state shouldn't pile onto an already onerous and complicated tax burden by heaping a new $1 billion tax on Californians that has questionable merit in several respects. Therefore, our members hope you will reject AB 1998 should it come before the Senate.


John Stephenson
State Government Affairs Manager