NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 17, 2009

On April 2, 2008 Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and Council President Richard Conlin announced their proposal to adopt a 20-cent fee for each disposable paper or plastic shopping bag used in the city.  With the proposal up for vote on August 18, it deserves close examination, says Paul Guppy, Vice President for Research at the Washington Policy Center.

How will it work?

  • The proposal would add a 20-cent per bag tax to each consumer's total purchase and 75 percent of bag tax revenue would go to the Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) budget to fund garbage reduction and recycling programs.
  • The city would receive about $10 million annually in new revenue.
  • All bag-tax funds would be devoted to new spending with 25 percent kept by store owners to cover the cost of administering the tax to their customers.

Opponents of the bag tax are organized as The Coalition to Stop the Seattle Bag Tax. Their main arguments against Referendum 1 are that:

  • Some 90 percent of people already reuse or recycle most of the paper or plastic bags they use; the bag tax would fund a program to oversee something they already do.
  • The bag tax would add another mis-managed city program, including two new permanent positions on the city payroll.
  • The proposed ordinance is unfair because it "may have loopholes for big box stores like Wal-Mart and Target."
  • It would hurt those who can least afford it; food banks, people on fixed incomes and low-income working families.
  • It would add a permanent new tax during a recession, which would further burden consumers and delay economic recovery.
  • It would add a new fee at a time when the Mayor and city council members have already increased charges for basic services like water, electricity and garbage pick-up.
  • It would be inconvenient and costly to retailers, require new training for sales staff and new systems to track distribution of bags and the amount of tax money collected.

Source: Paul Guppy, "Overview of the Proposed Seattle Bag Tax," Washington Policy Center, July 2009.


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