Can D.C. use a bag tax to fund public transportation? Photo by nicasaurusrex.
Yesterday, the D.C. Council finalized the five cent tax on paper and plastic bags at grocery, drug, convenience and liquor stores. This is a good move for the environment, but I’m particularly happy that four of the five cents go directly toward cleaning up the Anacostia River. It makes the tax more transactional. It doesn’t feel like the government is stepping in and taking away your plastic bags, which people would resent; it feels like you’re paying a nickel to get a clean city. That’s very smart framing for the environmental movement, which too often is painted as a bunch of killjoys, and I’m sure part of the reason the Council was able to pass it unanimously.
I wonder, though, whether this approach can be used to fund transportation. Gas taxes are exceedingly unpopular and both congestion pricing and bridge tolls failed to pass in New York, home to the most transit-using city in the country. What’s the difference?