“Go live in Wilmette if you don’t want to pay the taxes,” Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said Monday night, defending his proposal for a 15-cent bag tax in Evanston.
Reid claimed at the Human Services Committee meeting that the proposed bag tax should “make people proud of Evanston, that Evanston does bold things to make the community cleaner and stand up for the environment.”
He added that residents who took their shopping business out of town in response to the tax would be “shirking their responsibilities as citizens of Evanston.”
During public comment at the meeting several merchants complained that the tax would drive customers out of town at a time when merchants are struggling to stay in business.
Peter O’Malley of Beer on Central, who’s president of the Central Street Evanston organization, said the tax would be “punitive to all small businesses in the city,” when most, he said are already environmentally conscious and many have been recognized for their environmental efforts.
Ellen King of Hewn Bread held up a paper bread bag, saying, “We’ve never used plastic. We use paper that can be composted.” She said the tax would really be a burden on small businesses to administer.
King said she’d be OK with a ban on plastic bags that the proposed ordinance would impose in 2024, “but please don’t tax paper bags,” she added.
Simone Oettinger of the children’s clothing and gift store Maya Papaya held up an empty Amazon delivery box and asked why the city wasn’t taxing those. “Online shopping has a much bigger impact on the environment,” she claimed.
Oettinger said the city should at least exempt gift bags that stores like her shop hand out as a form of gift wrapping.
“Evanston has a reputation for being business-unfriendly,” she added, “and this will send customers and businesses to other communities and online.”
Susanne Ali of Dave’s Down to Earth Rock Shop said her customers are already complaining that they don’t want to come to Evanston because of the cost of parking.
Add the bag tax, she said, “and you’re going to end up losing even more businesses in Evanston.”
Noting that her shop moved across Main Street to a new location a few years ago, she added, “Next time we’re going to move, we’ll have to consider moving to other suburbs just based on this proposal and the parking fees.”
On motions from Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) the committee voted 3-2 to carve out an exemption for paper gift bags and to let recipients of SNAP or food stamp benefits escape paying the bag tax.
But a motion by Revelle to exempt restaurants from the bag tax failed for lack of a second.
The measure now goes to the City Council for introduction and action.