Statewide bag tax advances out of Senate committee

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A shopper loads bags of groceries in plastic bags into his car trunk at a store parking lot. | Sun-Times file photo

SPRINGFIELD – A bill levying a 7-cent tax on plastic and paper shopping bags advanced out of the state Senate’s revenue committee Wednesday with its sponsor promising to bring an amended proposal back to the committee in the coming weeks.

There was unanimous approval to advance the bag tax, Senate Bill 1240, from five Democrats and two Republicans present at the committee.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat, said the legislation would be amended after negotiations with Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office.

Pritzker’s proposed budget includes $20 million in anticipated revenue from the tax.

“I’m working with the governor’s office to get the bill that they want and we want together,” Link said.

Link’s bill in its current form levies a 7-cent tax, with 2 cents being kept by the retailer to cover the costs of implementing the tax.

The other 5 cents would be collected by the state, with 2 cents going directly to the general revenue fund and another 3 cents deposited in the Checkout Bag Tax fund, which would fund solid waste management programs in the counties in which the tax was collected.

Link said these distributions of the revenue would be subject to change after negotiations.

The bill excludes the municipalities of Chicago, Oak Park and any other municipality which had a bag tax on the books as of Feb. 1, 2018. The tax in SB 1240 is currently structured the same as Chicago’s tax.

“We wouldn’t want to add 7 cents on top of their already 7 cents,” Link said.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association filed in support. Rob Karr, IRMA’s president, said the group is supportive because of the comprehensiveness of the plan in its promotion of solid waste management.

He also said every bag tax passed around the country thus far has given a portion back to retailers to administer the cost.

The Illinois Restaurant Association filed in opposition to the bill. Currently, SB 1240 does not contain exemptions for carry-out bags used at restaurants, which are part of the legislation in Chicago.

At the moment, some environmental groups oppose the bag tax because of exceptions and pre-emptions included in the bill.

Still, Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club environmental group which is currently opposed to the bill, said there’s “a lot to be excited about” with the bag tax and its potential to curb waste.

“Our concerns are about the pre-emption provisions” Darin said. “What we view as a broad pre-emption of auxiliary containers.”

According to the bill, auxiliary containers include containers designed to be reusable, packaging for bulk items, newspaper bags, wraps for frozen foods and several other containers. They are pre-empted from taxation in the current bill.

The bill also exempts bags used to transport items purchased using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, also known as food stamps, or items purchased using other government aid programs.

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