For many years, the most extreme elements of the environmental movement pursued a statewide ban on plastic grocery bags in California. Every time they would do this, despite the overwhelming liberal majorities in the state legislature, their efforts would fail. Over and over the arguments on the junk-science behind defaming the bags, the negative economic impacts of a ban, and the impressive political coalition opposing the ban combined to kill the effort.
Until last year, that is, when something happened.
The California Grocers Association (CGA), which had been a key member of the coalition stopping the ban from passing for many years, threw its full weight behind SB 270, which added to the statewide ban on standard plastic grocery bags a 10-cent "fee" (read: TAX) on each paper bag and thicker plastic bag provided to customers. The profits from those fees will go to-you guessed it-the grocers.
To put it bluntly, the greed of the grocers could not resist the idea of a windfall that would see them gaining brand new tax-free profits that could approach a half-billion dollars annually.
The legislation, backed by the CGA, passed out of the Legislature and was signed by Governor Jerry Brown. However, the American Progressive Bag Alliance immediately set about the task of collecting over 800,000 signatures to refer SB 270 to the voters. The state Constitution provides that if enough voters sign petitions, they can halt a newly-enacted law, and then that law has to appear before voters on the next general election ballot. If voters approve it, the law goes into effect. If they reject it, the law is repealed. SB 270, the statewide plastic bag ban combined with the 10-cent per paper/thicker plastic bag tax, will be up before voters next November.
No doubt grocers have been salivating over the opportunity to reap hundreds of millions of dollars of profits from their unholy alliance with extreme environmentalists.
Except that there is now a very real possibility that they will never see the anticipated 30 pieces of silver which they covet - in fact it's very possible their greed might cost them big bucks instead.
This is where things get a little more complicated, but I'm counting on you to stick with me as I talk about a brand new development that the greedy grocers could not have seen coming.
A couple of weeks ago the American Progressive Bag Alliance, the same group that spent several million dollars gathering signatures for the referendum on SB 270, filed a petition to place yet another ballot measure before voters, entitled the Environmental Tax Protection Act. If passed by the voters, it would require that the 10-cent paper/thicker plastic bag tax collected under SB 270 be redirected to an environmental purpose.
Specifically, this new measure would require that those hundreds of millions of taxes be deposited into a state Environmental and Enhancement Fund that is administered by the State Wildlife Conservation Board. These funds would then be available for legitimate environmental grants (e.g., drought mitigation projects, recycling).
It doesn't take a rocket scientist, or a sophisticated political analyst, to figure that the public, if forced to pay a tax at grocery stores, would far more prefer that the money go to a public benefit than simply to profit major grocery chains.Especially when they learn during next fall's campaign the self-dealing role that the California Grocers Association actually played in the process.
Based on the timeline involved with the qualification of a ballot measure, the American Progressive Bag Alliance will be able to start gathering signatures for this new measure in early December, which will afford them more than enough time to gather the necessary signatures to place this measure on the November ballot.
That leaves the members of the California Grocers Association in quite the conundrum. Before this new twist their path was clear: shell out tens of millions of dollars to help pass SB 270 at the ballot. A great investment given the huge, permanent financial windfall for their members.
But now you have to wonder if the play for the grocers might actually be to spend big bucks to defeat SB 270 at the ballot box. Not only would the new ballot measure divert their windfall to a public environmental purpose, but it is actually the case that paper and thicker plastic bags cost the store more than traditional plastic bags, so grocers would be forced either to jack up the overall price of goods just to cover that cost, or take a significant financial loss. A loss that could even further impact the already troubled Safeway-Albertson's IPO delayed earlier this week.
For those of us who watched the California Grocers Association "turn" on the customers of all of their stores, and who enjoy the convenience of plastic bags, there is a delicious irony in this turn of events.