by Kristina Rasmussen
It looks like Walmart is all set to go for the bag regulations currently sitting in the House. You might have to squint at the thumbnail photo, but a keen-eyed friend noticed their bags are already labeled with maker-Hilex's logo and contain at least 30 percent recycled content.
All the power to Walmart and Hilex for voluntarily offering these bags to consumers. They wouldn't do that if they didn't see market value in it. Kudos. But there is simply no need to use government intervention to force their choices on all Illinois manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and consumers. It's rent seeking, plain and simple.
Should this bill pass, the likely result is that added cost of compliance would quickly shrink the supply of plastic bags that could legally be distributed in Illinois -- this is the end goal of the bag haters, remember. The remaining suppliers would likely drive up their prices (to cover compliance costs and to take advantage of less competition). That's good for retailers like Walmart that already offer the bags -- their competitors now are forced to swallow the costs. The same goes for manufacturers like Hilex that already meet the regulatory standards -- they knock out competitors and have more market share. But for everyone else, it smells.
What happens when a small business sees their bag prices rise? Perhaps they go online and buy "illegal" unmarked bags off of Amazon or another online retailer. They hand them out to consumers, only the find an environmental activist group engaged in the "public interest" action of hunting down "illegal" bags and their distributors. The bill calls for a $1,000 fine cap, but it isn't clear if that is per bag, per store, per chain, per incident, per year, per the life of the bill, etc. A small retailer finds themselves in court. You see how this law can start to cause some serious headaches for unwitting entrepreneurs just trying to break even.
And what is the cost to the state, and by extension, taxpayers? Well, that's still a mystery, even after a fiscal note was requested on the bill. Here's what the agency came back with:
SB 3442 would be revenue neutral to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, as the Illinois EPA's duties under the bill would be covered in part by the registration fee and otherwise carried out with the Agency's existing resources.Know what is missing from that fiscal note? Numbers.
How many $500 registrations does the agency expect once the law is in place? How many hours of staff time is needed to maintain the recycling website and other administrative and enforcement tasks? What is the hourly cost of said staff time? The website? The cost over the life of the law? What is the total revenue, the total spending? They apparently have no clue, but we're supposed to be satisfied with their bland reassurances that this will be carried out with fees and existing resources.
Recall that a fiscal note is supposed to offer the following:
(25 ILCS 50/4) (from Ch. 63, par. 42.34) Illinois has a serious fiscal note problem, and this is a case in point. But I digress.
Sec. 4. The note shall be factual in nature, as brief and concise as may be, and shall provide a reliable estimate in dollars and, in addition, it shall include both the immediate effect and, if determinable or reasonably foreseeable, the long range effect of the measure. If, after careful investigation, it is determined that no dollar estimate is possible, the note shall contain a statement to that effect, setting forth the reasons why no dollar estimate can be given. A brief summary or work sheet of computations used in arriving at fiscal note figures shall be included.
The desire to stop local bag bans and taxes is understandable, especially given Los Angeles' crazy plan to ban all single-use plastic bags. But since this bill exempts Chicago, Illinois will end up with a patchwork of sorts no matter what. How about pushing a clean bill banning local regulations/taxes along with a resolution that commends voluntary recycling initiatives instead of mandating them?