Today, my dad is writing my column. He just doesn’t know it yet.

The Montgomery County Executive has proposed a 5-cent bag tax, similar to that recently enacted in D.C., but covering more types of retail establishments. The Council is voting on it today, probably. And, they will probably pass it.*

They say it’s not for revenue purposes (although they expect it to bring in 1.5 million). They say it will decrease pollution in the Anacostia River and its tributaries. My dad wrote the Council a letter about it, because he doesn’t think it will serve the intended purpose, and he doesn’t like the idea of paying more taxes. I happen to disagree with him about the bags and their contribution to environmental degradation, but it’s a good letter.

People are lazy and forgetful and busy. If they have to pay for bags, they will be more likely to remember to grab one of the fifteen reusable bags they already have in the trunk of the car and actually bring it into the store. I am of course talking about myself. Either that, or they will hold up the checkout line by running out to get it when they remember. So I don’t have a problem with the tax, per se. Though, on top of a lot of other taxes in the County, it adds insult to injury.

What I would like to see them do instead of this tax is to eliminate bags from grocery stores completely. This is already the practice in many other countries. If you show up without a reusable bag at the checkout in France, for instance, you’re going to be juggling melons and shoving that pint of ice cream in your boxer shorts to get it out the door.

I think you’ll remember to bring your bag, won’t you?

The other reason not to have this tax is because the discussion about it leads to excessive punning. Although, I chose the title, above not only because I’m using my dad’s letter, but because it was James Brown’s birthday yesterday. In fact, the opportunity to use that title is the primary reason for this post.

Here is the letter my dad wrote to Council members. It speaks for itself.


Subject: Martians pay bag tax

Dear Public Servants:

On scrutinizing the memos given you for the Bag Tax hearing on 3/31/11, some startling information was disclosed. Taxpayers, it seems, are exempt from the tax!

To support this disclosure, read the following in the memos:

On page 6, under Goals & Objectives; “transfer burden of costs from taxpayer to consumers.” Notice the subtlety of the language distinguishing the 2 groups.

Page 11, Economic Impact section; “cost of tax is borne by customer, not by County taxpayers.” Next paragraph; “bill will shift cost from County taxpayers to retail customers.”

Apparently, the great majority of County taxpayers did not realize they were a separate & distinct group not recognized as “retail customers” or “consumers” by the County’s leaders, & therefore not intended to be the focus/target of Bill 8-11.

Another important item not discussed in the memos deals with the main source of pollution affecting mainly the Anacostia, & also the Potomac Rivers. I refer to the century-old practice of discharging sewage overflow into the rivers when there are heavy rains, which occurs about 75 times a year. As a youngster, I witnessed the huge gates along the Anacostia open to discharge gigantic amounts of light brown effluent that were accompanied by a terrifically horrid smell. Consequently, I stopped fishing there.

Plastic bags are a much smaller part of the problem. In this connection, it appears the County is obligated to help fund the Anacostia cleanup among other items. We should be keeping our eyes on the big problem; what has been going into the rivers for ages, far before plastic bags were widely used.

At the least, Bill 8-11 needs much more work & consideration. The best course is to bag the bill.


Max Bronstein
Consumer ?
Customer ?
Martian ?

*The County Council passed this legislation on May 3 by a vote of 8-1.

For more from Paula Whyman, see and her online parody newspaper