Inequality is a hot topic these days. Everyone seems to want to write about it. The launch of TheUpshot, the new project from the New York Times, included a story on the wealth of the middle class, the Times Sunday...
- The Tax Policy Blog
- A Government Charge of Five Cents per Plastic Bag: Tax or Fee?
A Government Charge of Five Cents per Plastic Bag: Tax or Fee?
Toronto has enacted a citywide charge of 5 cents per plastic bag, calling it a fee, as reported in The Star. (hat tip: Jacob McCay)
A similar measure failed in New York City because it was deemed a tax, which the city's administration cannot enact without legislative approval. Here's how Tax Foundation economist Josh Barro described New York Mayor Bloomberg's proposal in a recent analysis:
A new five-cent-per-bag "fee" on disposable plastic shopping bags (expected to raise $16 million in FY'10). The Bloomberg administration maintains this proposal isn't a tax, despite the fact that the proceeds do not defray costs for the government to provide a specific service but rather provide general revenue. Most authorities would call it a tax, and the distinction matters, because the city council can approve a new fee, whereas a tax would require assent from the state legislature. Other cities that have considered such proposals (including Seattle) have properly labeled them as taxes.
The Star article doesn't explain where the revenue goes, but if it goes into general revenue, it's properly called a tax, not a fee.
Plastic bags aren't the only things that are being taxed with "fees." 911 calls in California, courts in Florida, lottery tickets in North Carolina, strip bars in Texas, driving on a bridge in Louisiana, etc.
Buy this blogger a cup of coffee!
Join the Tax Foundation's fight for sound tax policy Go
About the Tax Policy Blog
The Tax Policy Blog is the official weblog of the Tax Foundation, a non-partisan, non-profit research organization that has monitored tax policy at the federal, state and local levels since 1937. Our economists welcome your feedback. If you would like to send an e-mail to the author of a blog post, please click on that person's name to locate his or her e-mail address or visit our staff page here.