HARTFORD, CT — A majority of the legislature’s Environment Committee think it is a good idea to charge 5 cents for single-use plastic bags and to use the money to help maintain state parks.
However, many expressed concern about whether that fund would truly be dedicated to helping state parks, or that it would be just another account that could be swept into the general fund to help erase the budget deficit.
“This administration is not going to find a solution to this problem alone,” Sen. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, said Wednesday before voting in favor of the bill.
He said the legislature needs to help find solutions to maintaining its struggling state park system.
“I don’t pretend that this is perfect but it’s what we have before us,” Miner said.
The committee voted 19-10 to send the bill to the House for further consideration.
“It’s a work in progress, but it sends a clear signal that we have to find an alternative funding stream for our state parks,” Sen. Ted Kennedy, Jr., D-Branford, said.
Kennedy has been working for the past three years on the plastic bag problem and the lack of funding for Connecticut parks.
“The reality is our state parks are in crisis,” Kennedy said. “We are only one of a few states that rely exclusively on general fund revenue for our parks.”
Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, said that the state parks are currently being funded at the same level as they were back in 2006. She said they have to find a solution, but every time the legislature creates a funding stream, it gets raided.
Miner said he believes the 5 cent fee for plastic bags is a tax, but using it to fund the state parks allows people to make the connection to the environment. He said it makes an environmental policy statement.
Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Robert Klee said in written testimony that the administration is not in favor of creating a new fund with the fees collected from the bags and would prefer the money be deposited in the general fund.
Some lawmakers expressed concern about it being a regressive tax on a poor population, who can’t or won’t afford the more expensive reuseable cloth bags, while others said they should just ban plastic bags.
This is the first year the Connecticut Food Association, which represents grocery stores, is supporting the bill.
Only stores with gross annual sales of at least $2 million and more than 10,000 square feet of retail space will have to comply with the collection of the bag fee. The state, if the bill passes the full General Assembly, could start collecting the fee as early as Oct. 1, 2017.