It was only a single line-item veto in a $37.4 billion state budget, but it has fueled speculation over the fate of a controversial bill to impose a nickel fee on single use carry-out bags.
Gov. Phil Murphy blocked the diversion of funds targeted for lead abatement projects in the budget, a move welcomed by environmental and other advocates who want to see more resources dedicated to eliminating childhood exposure to lead.
In approving a state spending plan for the new fiscal year, the governor eliminated language that would have shifted at least $23 million raised by fees on plastic and paper bags to the general budget instead of lead programs as originally intended.
But Murphy has not yet decided even whether to sign the plastic bag fee bill (A-3267), which was fast-tracked through the Legislature during budget deliberations late last month. “No final decision has been made regarding the legislation,’’ said Dan Bryan, a spokesman for the governor.
The issue boils down to what is the best way to curb what some view as the pervasive spread of plastics in the environment — an outright ban on plastic bags or a fee that will encourage consumers to switch to more environmentally-friendly alternatives.
In this case, the Legislature chose a fee on both plastic and paper single use carry-out bags, a step favored by the New Jersey Food Council, which remains hopeful the governor will endorse that option.
“If approved, New Jersey will be recognized as enacting the most impactful disposable bag law in the country and an environmental leader for other states to model,’’ said Linda Doherty, president of the food council.
Many environmental groups oppose fee
But many environmental groups oppose the bag fee, saying it does not work as well as a ban on plastics; the fee is too small to discourage plastic bag use; and it will end up pre-empting local bans passed by communities, like Jersey City and Hoboken.
“We’d like communities to have control of what happens there, especially when it comes to pollution,’’ said Ed Potosnak, executive director of the League of Conservation Voters of New Jersey. He is hoping Murphy will conditionally veto the fee bill.
“Plastics is a serious public health and environmental risk and we should be taking the strongest steps to get rid of it,’’ added Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. He favors a bill (S-2772) that would ban plastic bags and straws, introduced last week by Sen. Bob Smith.
Smith, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, plans to hold a hearing on plastics in late August, a step he hopes will point the state toward the best action to deal with the problem.
“My choice between the two (options) is a ban,’’ Smith said, although he believes the debate over the plastic bag fee has accelerated the discussion over plastics by at least two years.
Given the history of legislators and governors diverting funds from environmental programs, there is no guarantee that if the plastic bag fee bill is signed, the money might again be diverted.