Fort Collins Passes Bag Tax (that’s Not Really a Tax)

Image: Norman Ack
Image: Norman Ack

The city government of Fort Collins, Colorado, just passed a five-cent tax on disposable shopping bags, set to be implemented on April 1, 2015. Only, legally, they can’t call it a tax, or they’d have to get voter approval, so it’s a “fee.” See the Coloradoan for details

For a second I thought maybe talk about “consent” might mean that shoppers could decide whether they wanted to pay the fee, but of course that’s not what “consent” means in this context. According to a Q&A by the Coloradoan, the language means merely that the store has to tell you it’s charging you for a bag. You are free not to “consent” to the fee—in which case you don’t get the bag.

The most onerous part of the ordinance might not even be the fee; it might be the records requirements for merchants. According to the Coloradoan:

Retailers will be asked to record the bag fee charge and the number of disposable bags provided on customers’ receipts. They should maintain such books, accounts, invoices and documents necessary to verify the implementation of the charge, the ordinance says. The retailer should keep and preserve those records for three years and make them available during any inspection or audit by the city.

In other words, retailers are supposed to track every bag that leaves in the hands of a customer. I suspect that that burden alone will cause smaller retailers to stop offering bags altogether.

For more on why the bag fee is a terrible idea, see my June 20 op-ed for Complete Colorado. (Note that, as amended, the ordinance lets retailers keep the proceeds of the bag “sales.”)