Plastic bags to be banned in New York

And other state budget highlights

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Under an agreement reached as part of the state budget passed by lawmakers over the weekend, plastic bags will be banned in all New York retail stores starting next March. “You drive through urban areas in this state and you see plastic bags hanging from trees like some bizarre Christmas ornaments,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters on March 31. “You see in waterways all across this state, plastic bags.”

With the agreement, New York has become the second state to ban plastic bags (California was the first). State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach who heads the Environmental Conservation Committee, sponsored the bill that banned plastic bags. “We will score a big win for our environment and our future,” he said in a social media post shortly before the budget was approved.

Under the plan, counties can opt to require a 5-cent fee on paper bags — 3 cents of which would go to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund, used to expand New York’s Forest Preserve and restore historic sites. The other two cents would go to counties to purchase and hand out reusable shopping bags to residents. A spokeswoman for Nassau County Executive Laura Curran did not respond to a call for comment on whether Nassau would seek a 5-cent fee on paper sacks.

Some municipalities have already sought to decrease the use of plastic bags in stores — Long Beach and the Village of Sea Cliff have already implemented a 5-cent surcharge on the bags. In Long Beach, the law was passed with the hope of reducing plastic bag use by 75 percent. Suffolk County also has a fee on plastic and paper bags.

Nassau County Legislator Debra Mulé, a Democrat from Freeport, had sought the same fee countywide, but the Republican majority blocked a vote on her legislation. Following the announcement that plastic bags would be banned statewide, Mulé said she would be dropping her bill.

“I’m happy there’s a ban on plastic bags — it’s great,” she said. Like other environmentalists, though, Mulé said she was disappointed the fee on paper bags would not be mandatory. “I’m unhappy paper bags are not addressed specifically by the state because they have their own affect on the environment,” she said. “I have to study the state’s bill further, but I’m going to propose legislation that will put a fee on paper bags like in Suffolk County.”

Baldwinite Rita Cavanagh, an environmentalist, said she had mixed reaction to the bag news. “I’ll take anything at this point,” Cavanagh said. “But if you really want it to be something that’s going to better the environment and change the mindset of people, there just has to be a fee on paper bags.”

Most Baldwinites responding to a social media poll said they supported the ban. “The right thing to do,” Steve Rolston commented. Marguerite Grasing Keller said she sees many plastic bags in Hempstead Lake and along the Meadowbrook Parkway. “And now we know, that plastic will be there forever,” Grasing Keller said. “As a society, we have to learn from our mistakes.”

One commenter, though, called it another “tax” and Christine Anne Hirschfeld said it was ridiculous. “Glad I’ve been hoarding them,” she added.

The state budget also made the 2 percent property tax cap permanent, something the State Senate’s Long Island delegation advocated for leading up to the spending plan’s passage. The cap limits the yearly growth of taxes levied by local government and school districts to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less, in an effort to keep places such as Nassau County affordable for homeowners. It was first passed in 2011 and was set to expire in 2020.

It also included the passage of congestion pricing, which charges drivers a toll to enter Midtown Manhattan’s central business district south of 60th Street. According to Newsday, the Long Island Rail Road could receive up to $4 billion over five years from money raised by congestion pricing. The money would go to capital improvements.

“We came to Albany to change the status quo and ensure that Long Island remains the state’s best place to live, work and raise a family,” the Senate’s Long Island delegation said in a joint statement. “This year’s budget reflects our values as a delegation and demonstrates our shared commitment, along with that of Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, to Long Islanders.”

Long Island State Senators said they would not support congestion pricing in the state budget if there was nothing allocated for the LIRR. “If we’re going to ask Long Island drivers to pay more,” Kaminsky said, “it better come with an incredible influx of money for the Long Island Rail Road.” It’s not known when congestion pricing will go into effect.

The passage of recreational marijuana was not included in the budget, as Cuomo had hoped for.

Baldwin schools get big money

Kaminsky also announced that the budget includes $31 million for the Baldwin school district. The aid is a $410,894 increase from the aid the district received last year. “Providing a high-quality education for our children is my top priority, and strengthening the school district is central to ensuring Baldwin remains a vibrant community,” Kaminsky said in a statement.

Assemblywoman Judy Griffin, a Rockville Centre Democrat, and state Sen. John Brooks, a Seaford Democrat, also touted the increased funding. “As the mother of four children, I know how important education funding is to their future. And, as a Long Island taxpayer and homeowner, I am keenly aware of the balance between quality education and the real cost to local taxpayers,” Griffin said in a statement.

“In a difficult budget year, I am pleased to report that by working with my colleagues in the legislature, the Baldwin School District will see an additional $410,000 to support its students,” Brooks said.

— Nadya Nataly contributed to this story