Taxing plastic bags

As long as they're trying to figure out ways to trim government costs by hundreds of millions of dollars to balance the recession-stung state budget, the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor listened to testimony Wednesday on a bill that would require the cutting down of more trees and the use of more energy to manufacture and transport more paper bags, while -- as bonuses, mind you -- imposing a new tax on Nevada shoppers and requiring us to foot the bill for more health inspectors to make sure grocery stores and other merchants stop using the "wrong kind" of plastic bag.

Oh, our cup runneth over.

"Plastics bags in trees, plastic bags in wire lines, in swimming pools, in bushes, around cars. They will catch the wind and take them wherever the wind will," explained state Sen. Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, who's sponsoring Senate Bill 397.

Dogs also do unsightly things. Should we create a new tax to fund new state inspectors to make sure they all wear pants?

SB 397 would impose a fee -- 10 cents, for starters -- to be paid by a customer for the retailer's distribution of "certain nonbiodegradable and noncompostable plastic bags" from Oct. 1, 2009, to June 30, 2011. Then, beginning in July, 2011, the bill would ban the use of those bags, imposing fines for violations of the ban, and authorizing local health authorities to inspect retail establishments, looking for "bad bags," and assessing fines should they find any.

The money wouldn't even flow to the state general fund. Instead, it would go into a new "Plastic Bag Environmental Cleanup Fund," where it would presumably be used to hire vast new squads of well-paid "bag wranglers."

Tim Shestek of the American Chemistry Council told the committee "Plastic is very energy efficient, so if you are switching over ... to paper bags you are going to increase the energy production and costs associated with manufacturing those new paper bags. And that leads to greenhouse gases (and) more fuel being spent by the truck on the road."

Mr. Shestek recommended that instead of banning the plastic bags, more effort should be put into recycling them.

But that's hardly as much fun as taxing people and fining them and then using the loot to create some new Division of Plastic Bag Control, is it?

Since it raises taxes -- there's a great idea, in a deepening recession -- Ms. Carlton's proposal would require approval by two-thirds of the Legislature. Let's hope it never gets that far.