“Give Me Men to Match My Mountains,” begs a caption chiseled into a building across from the State Capitol. It’s a majestic call for leadership from another, less cynical era. Here’s something more apt for today: “Give Me Men & Women to Build Our Mole Hills.”
From all quarters, the inane seems to be the only arsenal available to our elected officials: To wit: Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Dickinson, who thinks the critical issue of our time centers on banning plastic bags – a plank in a platform he obviously thinks will catapult him into the state Assembly next year. Way to go Roger, you probably do belong in the Legislature, a place where every day seems disproportionately focused on playing trival pursuit on the malodorous tongue of a frothing, volatile multi-headed leviathan known as the budget crisis, health care crisis, unemployment crisis, homeless crisis, education crisis . . .
But those matters can wait while our elected officials dicker around with things like Assembly Bill 68 (Brownley), which seeks to impose a 25-cent tax on plastic shopping bags. Proponents trot out “Bag Man” at news conferences where they twist facts like taffy. A preponderance of science and research shows plastic bags to be a non issue. There is even a strong case to be made they actually are better for the environment than paper (note earlier posting here and again full disclosure that the Blue Dog has performed consulting work for firms that produce plastic bags and packaging materials).
The BlueDog- an avid recycler – is old enough to remember when paper bags were evil because they were made by raping our forests. But who the hell cares about historical perspective? Or pesky details associated with life cycle analysis, consumer choice, financial impact on shoppers or the Legislature’s abrupt abortion of its nascent plastic bag recycling program?
This is, after all, California, land of endless opportunity to do something well-meaning, but ultimately amounting to a public policy mole hill. Someone should scratch at beneath the surface in search of motivations. Frustration on the part of our elected officials at their own self-evident impotence in solving what truly matters? A desire to distract us from reality? Control issues? Or is it something less cosmic and more base, like greed?
If you read the fine print of AB 68, you’ll see a provision that allows grocery stores and retailers to keep 5 cents for each bag they tax. Wow. The bag itself probably costs less than a penny. Bag bashers like Dickinson and Brownley claim “19 billion” plastic bags are sold annually. So if we do the math, that’s a $4.75 Billion reach into the pockets of Californians — of that, about a Cool Billion will go to grocery stores and retailers. Can they possibly need that kind of jack to administer the program? In an industry with razor thin profit margins, it’s no wonder their associations are on board with measure. Seems like an incentive to push more bags.
The winners in this game of trivial pursuit certainly aren’t average Californians, who have bigger worries on their minds and loftier expectations of their elected officials. Where is our Sir Edmund Hillary? Where are our fearless, dutiful Sherpas?