Wednesday, February 21, 2001

House panel approves litter bill

Patton pitches alternative to half-cent tax

By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — A House committee on Tuesday approved a half-cent tax on most fast-food cups and drink containers to finance a far-reaching program to combat litter, illegal dumps and old landfills.

        Late in the day, Gov. Paul Patton met privately with House Democrats to pitch his own proposal for solid-waste collection, which he said has a much better chance of passage than a tax on containers that was approved by a House committee Tuesday.

[photo] Greg Stumbo's bill would impose a half-cent fee on most drink containers and fast-food cups.
(Associated Press photo)
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        Mr. Patton said he has more than 50 votes committed in the House, from both parties, and is lining up more every day.

        There are still some problems, notably legislative concern about the penalty in Mr. Patton's proposal. If a county fails to clean up illegal dumps or provide universal curbside collection, it could lose highway repair and construction money from the state. Mr. Patton said he wants to stick by the penalty.

        “I felt like the removal of that provision would make the bill a paper tiger,” Mr. Patton said after his meeting.

        To pass a bill without penalty would be “a charade,” Mr. Patton said.

        House Speaker Pro Tem Larry Clark, D-Louisville, is sponsoring Mr. Patton's package. “We're going to pass it, just like it is,” Mr. Clark said after the closed meeting of House Democrats.

        Mr. Patton said there is no fundamental conflict between House Majority Leader Greg Stumbo's proposal and his own.

        Mr. Stumbo's proposal, which was approved by the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee by a 20-7 vote, would impose a half-cent fee on most drink containers and fast-food cups.

        The amount of money raised by the half-cent fee is in dispute. Mr. Stumbo said it could be well over $30 million a year. He would spend the first $5 million to help clean up illegal dumps and provide money to properly close old municipal landfills. The next $25 million would be apportioned among counties based on road miles and population to pick up litter, finance solid waste pickup or begin recycling programs.

        Any additional money would be divided among counties that can prove they properly dispose of 85 percent of household garbage. The Natural Resources Cabinet estimates that 82 percent of household trash is already properly disposed of.

        “It still would end up being paid for by the consumer. It can be a fee or it can be a tax, it depends on who's paying it,” said Rep. Danny Ford, R-Mount Vernon.

        The bill is opposed by the bottling industry as well as many retailers, who complain the additional cost could hurt business and collecting it would add to administrative problems.

        Bottlers and cup manufacturers, though, decline to say how much a half-cent fee would actually mean to the real costs they have. “That's proprietary,” said D. Ray Gillespie, a lobbyist for the bottling industry.

        Mr. Gillespie and others also complain that their industry should not be the sole target for an initiative that covers far more than litter in the form of discarded bottles, cans and cups.

        “Why should our industry be taxed to close landfills?” Mr. Gillespie said. “The point is it ought to be paid for out of the General Fund. If that's a priority, that's where it ought to be paid for.”

        Mr. Stumbo said the bottling industry has obstructed any real cleanup efforts for many years, despite promises to the contrary.

        “They ... are in favor of cleaning up the state as long as they don't have to pay for it,” Mr. Stumbo said.

        There are at least two proposals making their way through the General Assembly this session sponsored by Republicans that would create public education problems to combat litter. But neither sets aside any money for the programs they envision.

        “While we wait for the perfect plan, garbage is stacking up on our highways,” said Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Louisville.

        “Everybody's got a responsibility for this, whether you're throwing it out the window or not,” said Rep. Robin Webb, D-Grayson.


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