Lawmakers: Plastic Bag Ban Gains Traction In NY Budget Talks
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The ubiquitous plastic bag would be banned throughout New York state under a proposal gaining traction in state budget negotiations in Albany.
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky and Assemblyman Steve Englebright, both Long Island Democrats, said Wednesday that it's past time the state followed the growing number of local governments that have banned plastic bags. They said they're hopeful the provision will be included in the budget, which faces an April 1 deadline.
"This issue has kicked around Albany way too long," said Kaminsky, chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee.
But imposing a fee on paper shopping bags, as some lawmakers and advocates support, could prove to be a thornier issue. Some legislators are concerned a fee would be a tax on consumers in poorer communities. Details of a proposed fee — how much it would be, whether exemptions would be allowed — were still being discussed, Kaminsky said.
Environmental conservation advocates said New Yorkers use 23 billion plastic bags each year.
Cuomo, a Democrat, supports a plastic bag ban and included it in his budget proposal, although he and the Legislature overturned New York City's 5-cent fee on the bags in 2017, saying there should be a statewide response.
Cuomo introduced legislation last year that would have banned plastic bags across the state, but it failed to get a vote in the Legislature.
"We're encouraged by the emerging consensus on this issue and will continue to work with the Legislature to finalize a budget that works for all New Yorkers," Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi said.
The Legislature was working out the details of several proposals in Cuomo's $175 billion spending plan, including eliminating cash bail for criminal defendants and a permanent extension of the existing 2 percent cap on local property tax increases.
When top lawmakers emerged from another negotiating session with Cuomo on Wednesday, they were optimistic that a budget deal would be reached by the deadline.
"We're on pace to be on time," said Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers. "It's fair to say we are close on many things."
Much of the discussion Wednesday focused on a proposed tax on second homes in Manhattan worth more than $5 million. Lawmakers are now debating whether to make it an annual property tax or a one-time sales tax paid when the properties are bought. Revenue from the tax would go to New York City transit.
"They're ultra-rich," said Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, D-Manhattan. "They should be paying their fair share."
Meanwhile, more than 100 people who support legalizing recreational marijuana rallied at the Capitol for the second day, calling on lawmakers to include legalization in the budget.
While Cuomo wanted lawmakers to include a legalization provision, it now appears that disagreements over the details will keep it out of the spending plan. Barring a last-minute agreement, lawmakers say they expect to take up legalization following passage of the budget.
But a proposal to impose new tolls on motorists driving south of 61st Street in Manhattan is expected to be included. The toll, which would vary by day and time, would begin in 2021 as a way to reduce traffic congestion while also raising billions of dollars for the city's aging subway system.
While specific toll amounts have not been set, earlier estimates had put the amount as high as $12.
Cuomo wants the budget to also include a public campaign financing program, something many government watchdog groups say would reduce the power of wealthy campaign donors.
On Wednesday, Cuomo's support for public campaign financing was questioned after The New York Times reported that he held a $25,000-a-ticket fundraiser earlier this month. The Times article noted that attendees included lobbyists working on budget-related issues.
"A $25,000 ticket is outrageous," said Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, a New York City Democrat and one of three lawmakers who criticized Cuomo at a news conference Wednesday evening. "During the budget process it is egregious."
Azzopardi, the Cuomo spokesman, dismissed the criticism, noting that lawmakers themselves hold frequent campaign fundraisers.
"These hypocrites should practice what they preach and take a look in the mirror," he said.