WaPo Notes Passage of 5-cent Bag Tax, Leaves Out That Newspaper Bags Exempt

Yesterday the Montgomery County [Md.] Council passed into law a 5-cent tax on plastic and paper bags dispensed by  "nearly all retail establishments, not just those that sell food" within the county.

"Among the few exceptions are paper bags from restaurants and pharmacy bags holding prescription drugs," Post staffer Michael Laris noted in his page A1 story.

But Laris left out one huge exemption to the bag tax of concern to the reader: newspaper sleeves like the ones that subscribers of the Post get their daily papers delivered in.

From the Council's website:

The proposed tax will not apply to bags provided by a pharmacy containing prescription drugs; a newspaper bag or bag intended for initial use as a garbage, pet waste or yard waste; a bag provided at a seasonal event, such as a farmers market; or a paper bag that a restaurant gives a customer to take prepared food or drinks from the restaurant. The tax also will not apply if the bag is used to package a bulk item (such as small items at a food or hardware store) or to wrap perishable items (such as fresh or frozen food or flowers).

Perhaps it's an innocent omission, but the Post's editorial board has long been in favor of bag taxes, including ones that exempt newspaper sleeves from taxation.

If Washington Post newspaper sleeves were not exempt from taxation, a year's subscription to the Post would cost at least $18.25 for a full year's daily delivery.

I say at least because on rainy mornings, Post paper deliverers often double-bag the paper to prevent it from getting wet.

And while we're at it, why are take-out bags from restaurants exempt? That's another interesting exemption that Laris didn't explore.

I can't say for certain, but I'd have to wager that restaurant-heavy Bethesda -- roughly 200 restaurants in a few square miles -- had something to do with the doggie-bag loophole.

A follow-up story by the Post digging into the who's and why's behind the bag taxes exemptions would be an instructive, especially if it turns out that Post executives worked to make sure bags carrying newspapers were not taxed.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.