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My Turn: Full disclosure about plastic bags

Posted: August 17, 2011 - 9:10pm

Alaskans agree that the cleanliness of our oceans is critical. Any other intimation is absurd. We may disagree about the approaches but we do agree on the importance of clean water. The discussion of this matter needs the calm, well-mannered voices of all our citizens.

Turning the Tides, a Juneau-based organization which has worked to promote an awareness of the interconnections between water and life, has sponsored various activities and recently initiated a petition to add “a tax of $.15 Per Bag on All Plastic Shopping Bags Provided by Retailers at the Point of Sale” (quote from the initiative accepted by the city.)

Initiators stress that one of their objectives is to generate discussion about this issue. They have certainly achieved that goal; however they have not submitted a well-thought plan to deal with it in Juneau.

The title is deceptive, however, for several reasons

1. The petition itself defines a retailer as a business “with annual average gross sales over the last five years of $15,000,000, or more.” In Juneau, this means that this tax would apply only to about four large retailers. The legal ramifications of a tax that applies only to certain businesses may result in added costs to the city rather than added revenue, if the initiative passes.

2. Senior citizens would be exempt from this tax. Don’t all plastic bags have the same potential effect?

3. The effect of the two items mentioned above is that the tax would not be imposed on all plastic bags provided by retailers. Aren’t all plastic bags equal?

The title of the initiative and the details in the petition conflict and the city itself has not decided what title to use on the ballot in October.

I believe that the signers of the initiative needed, and the voters in Juneau need, full disclosure of the details of this initiative. The conflicts between the title and the facts confuse a true understanding of the question that will be voted upon by the voters in October.

I oppose this initiative for the reasons cited above and because I think that it may result in unexpected added costs for many. Plastic bags may not be perfect but they are pretty darn good for wet garbage. Sales of boxes of plastic bags may increase if the $0.15 tax is imposed. This would illustrate the law of unintended consequences.

I agree that we need to consider the effects of plastics in our oceans. Different solutions may result in the desired reduction in their use. More locations to recycle plastic bags, arts-and-crafts uses for the bags and their use in the Wearable Art Show are some that come to my mind. You could come up with others, I’m sure.

Please join me in voting NO on this poorly-written initiative.

• Willson is a resident of Juneau.

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