Plastic bag tax, sales tax extension placed on ballot

A citizens’ initiative to impose a “plastic bag tax” on certain stores in Juneau will go to voters this fall.

The CBJ Assembly last night had the option of adopting an ordinance in place of the initiative. But instead of passing the ordinance or delaying action on it past August 22nd, which would have put the initiative on the ballot in October 2012, the assembly simply declined to act on it. That puts the initiative on the municipal election ballot this year.

Mayor Bruce Botelho, participating by telephone, said some in the community had urged the assembly to table the ordinance and delay the vote.

“We’ve all received emails and I suspect calls arguing in opposition to it. I think that explains why it would be inadvisable for us to forgo the initiative process by attempting to adopt the initiative by ordinance itself,” Botelho said.

The initiative would require a 15-cent per bag fee, levied at the point of sale, for all retail outlets in Juneau with annual gross sales of 15-million dollars or more. Stores would remit the tax to the city, just like the CBJ sales tax, and the revenue would go into the city’s general fund.

Dixie Belcher is with Turning the Tides, a local nonprofit concerned about the effect plastic bags have on the environment – especially the ocean. She says the goal of the citizens’ initiative is to encourage people to give up plastic bags in favor of reusable ones.

“It’s something that is just a habit, and we can just as soon get into a habit of taking our own reusable bags,” says Belcher. “They do that in many other parts of the world. They’re actually banned, because of their impact on the ocean they’re banned in 25 percent of the world, and they’re taxed in many other parts of the world. And generally the taxation lowers the use of plastic bags by about 90 percent in the first three months.”

As the mayor pointed out the initiative sponsors will have a tough time convincing many in Juneau to support the tax. Mendenhall Valley resident Geri Swanson thinks the proposal is unfair and won’t have the intended effect.

“Personally, I own several reusable bags and I always forget to bring them with me when I go shopping,” Swanson says. “I recycle those small shopping bags in my garbage in my bathrooms and some I even take to the recycle center. So, I think 15-cents is just a silly idea for the city.”

Joining the “plastic bag tax” on the October municipal election ballot will be a proposition to extend the CBJ’s temporary 3 percent sales tax another five years. Assembly members voted unanimously to put the issue to a vote in October.

The 3 percent tax is due to expire July 1, 2012. The current 5 percent CBJ sales tax has three components – the temporary 3 percent tax, a temporary 1 percent tax, and a permanent 1 percent tax. Among the city functions covered by the 3 percent tax are police, fire, street maintenance, parks and recreation, libraries, and some capital project expenses.

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