State lawmakers are poised to overrule New York City's impending fee on non-reusable shopping bags after legislators from both parties voted Tuesday to delay any fee until at least next year.
The fee of at least a nickel was set to begin later this month. Mayor Bill de Blasio has defended the idea as a commonsense way of reducing litter and protecting the environment.
Lawmakers disagreed, calling the fee a burden on already strapped consumers. Following similar action in the Senate on Monday, the Democrat-led Assembly voted Tuesday to rebuke the elected leaders of the nation's largest city by prohibiting any bag fee from taking effect until at least 2018.
"How foolish is this? Did they really think this was going to work? Did they really think the people of the city of New York were this stupid?" Republican Sen. Marty Golden of Brooklyn said before the Assembly's 122-15 vote. "It's outrageous. I'm not trying to pick on a little legislative body, but this was an overreach and it shouldn't have happened."
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo hasn't said whether he'll sign or veto the bill. New York City Councilman Brad Lander said he hopes Cuomo works out a deal between the city and lawmakers to allow the fee to move forward. He said he'd be willing to consider changes to the fee.
"We will be appealing to Gov. Cuomo to help reach a compromise to let New York City try this out," Lander told said after the Assembly's vote. "It's proved effective in countless places.
A spokesman for Cuomo said the bill postponing the fee is under review.
Some lawmakers who voted to postpone the fee said they understand the city's desire to protect the environment, but city officials should have considered other alternatives first, including expanded bag recycling or incentives for the use of reusable bags.
Democratic Speaker Carl Heastie of the Bronx said the vote to delay the fee "is not an ending, it is a beginning" of the dialogue.
"It makes sense to press the pause button on this fee in order to do a more thorough investigation on the best ways to reduce paper and plastic waste in our environment," he said.
Environmental groups decried the Legislature's actions.
"This bill takes away New York's ability to control the 10 billion plastic bags that enter its waste stream each year and sets a dangerous precedent for the pre-emption of local policy," said Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters.
Several cities around the country, including Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and Chicago, have either banned single-use plastic bags or imposed a fee.
A spokesman for de Blasio declined to comment on the effort to stop the fee Tuesday. The Democratic mayor faced withering criticism last week over the fee during a legislative budget hearing in Albany.
If the fee survives, retailers will keep the revenue. The city plans to distribute hundreds of thousands of reusable shopping bags to help with the adjustment, and shoppers using food stamps won't have to pay the fee.