By Ben DeGrow | Special to Colorado Watchdog
Life offers up a lot of choices. Cable or satellite? Chocolate or vanilla? Paper or plastic? I take it back. You may have to scratch that last one.
The Daily Camera reports that the Boulder City Council is considering whether to institute a fee on disposable grocery bags, a trend among several posh mountain resort towns in Colorado.
But one council member says the proposed fee would place an undue burden on lower-income residents:
“I think it’s at the point where it’s impacting the food purchase, and I think it’s regressive,” said board member Victoria Mandell, who expected to see a recommended bag fee of between 2 and 5 cents. “I respect staff’s recommendation, but I am not in favor of 20 cents. Even though we have a very affluent community, it’s our job to look out for the people who aren’t affluent.”
With an economy slow to rebound and the national poverty rate remaining steadily high, the bag fee proposal becomes a harder sell to more Boulderites than in boom times. But the proposal also could deny economic empowerment to poorer residents.
In addition, the Daily Camera revealed that adopting the bag fee would cost the city more than $2 million during the first four years. Among the driving costs, explained “Boulder business sustainability specialist” Jamie Harkins, is the public awareness campaign. Well, naturally.
But the city also would be giving away a significant sum of reusable bags, as well. At 20 cents a throwaway plastic bag versus subsidized “free” reusable bags, the “choice” would become a bit easier. Many residents wouldn’t have to forget too many times to avoid the annoying fee.
How might that affect the city’s coffers, though? No word was given on how much revenue analysts or sustainability specialists predict the city would receive to offset the hefty administration costs.
It seems fair to say the proposed bag fee could just be a moneymaker. If that is the case, proponents may be trying to inoculate the city against a taxpayer lawsuit like the one that hit Aspen last month for its 20-cent bag tax — er, fee. After all, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in the Colorado Constitution requires a vote of the people to enact a “tax policy change directly causing a net tax revenue gain to any district.”
As it stands, the Boulder City Council is scheduled to decide the question on Oct. 16. While it may tug at the liberal soul, the council’s impending choice could mean one fewer choice for the people of Boulder.