New York state lawmakers in recent years have surrendered some of their policymaking and taxing powers to the executive branch. With the 2024 legislative session coming to close, they’re poised to go even further and turn those powers over to an organization outside of government entirely.

“The Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act” (S4246/A5322), a proposal to reduce the amount of packaging in landfills, may be voted on some time this week. Among other things, it sets targets for increasing the use of reusable or recyclable packaging by having businesses (“producers”) pay a “producer fee” based on the type and amount of material involved in delivering their product to consumers. That money would be used to change packaging practices, conduct public education and fund local recycling programs.

For local governments that offer trash collection, the proposal will likely ease some costs by reducing the waste that must otherwise be handled. Industry groups on the other hand have raised concerns about costs (particularly on consumer products that are themselves packaging, such as food containers) and compliance issues.

But what makes the legislation especially remarkable, and objectionable, is that the money wouldn’t be controlled by state government. Instead, a nonprofit “packaging reduction organization” (PRO) would be given a ten-year monopoly on working with producers—that is, setting and collecting the tax-like fees on what they sell in or into New York—and then deciding how the money gets spent.

How much money? The sponsors haven’t said, and the legislation doesn’t put a cap on what would be collected. But given that the goal is to deter companies from using certain products the producer fees presumably must be high enough to threaten profitability and induce changes (or “eco-modulation”). A 2021 study put the amount around $800 million per year. The cost to implement planned recycling programs and related activities would be increased by the bill’s “labor peace” language designed to push the packaging reduction organization and its vendors into using only unionized labor.

At present, the Legislature is already allowing the state utility regulator (the Public Service Commission) to collect and spend what will soon be several billion dollars annually outside the regular appropriations process. Lawmakers are also allowing the Department of Environmental Conservation to impose a tax-like allowance system on fossil fuels which will collect—and spend—$3 to $5 billion annually beginning next year. When PRO’s producer fees are factored in, it’s conceivable that more than 10 percent of New York state taxes could soon be collected—and spent—outside the Legislature’s purview.

Members of the Senate and the Assembly are elected and paid $142,000 annually, plus benefits and expenses, to be the state government’s board of directors: to make decisions about state policy and to fund and oversee the state agencies that implement it. Allowing agency bureaucrats to seize its policymaking and taxing powers has damaged the Legislature as an institution and, more importantly, weakened state government’s accountability to the public by making the election of lawmakers less meaningful. Forking legislative powers over to an unelected organization outside government should be the last thing on any lawmaker’s mind.

You may also like

NY’s biggest public pension fund gained nearly 12% in FY 2024

Rebounding from its biggest loss since the Global Financial Crisis, New York's Common Retirement Fund realized a strong investment gain of 11.55 percent in fiscal year 2024, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli announced. The Fund, which now stands just below $268 billion, supports pensions paid to members of the New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS). Read More

82 Questions Hochul’s Pandemic Report Should Answer

This is the month when New Yorkers are due to finally receive an official report on the state's response to the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the deadliest disasters in state history. T Read More

The Real Lack of Courage Driving NYC Congestion Pricing

Governor Hochul is taking heat after postponing the state’s years-old plan to charge drivers to enter lower Manhattan. As critics slam her for lacking “political courage,” it’s an appropriate time to examine some of the underlying issues that congestion pricing was meant to indirectly mitigate—because many if not most advocates were afraid to touch those issues themselves. And if congestion pricing proponents are to be taken at their word about their concern for MTA finances, or traffic, or air quality, they must show some of the same courage they’ve accused the governor of lacking. Read More

Lawmakers Seek To Revive a $10 Fee for Prescriptions That Was Dropped by DFS

A plan to require a $10.18 "dispensing fee" for filling drug prescriptions is back on the table in Albany – this time in the form of legislation rather than regulation. The Read More

Running Over Taxpayers: Legislature Speeding to Protect Cadillac Benefits for NYC Retirees

Bills designed to block any change to retiree health coverage for state and local public employees have been introduced repeatedly by legislators in both parties over the past 30 years. But the latest statewide “anti-diminution” measure, inspired by an ongoing controversy in New York City, would be the broadest and most costly yet—and more than two-thirds of state lawmakers are supporting it. Read More

How a Medicaid ‘Cut’ Could Lead to More Unionization of Home Care Aides

A money-saving maneuver in the newly enacted Medicaid budget could end up increasing costs in the long term – by paving the way for more unionization of the state's burgeoning home health workforce. Read More

Eight in 10 New York towns and cities have lost population since 2020

Filling in more details of New York's ongoing demographic decline, the Census Bureau has just released updated local population estimates showing that 80 percent of the state's towns and cities have lost residents since 2020. In addition to New York Ci Read More

Sales tax receipts are signaling slow growth in most of New York State

After rising sharply with an extra push from the inflation surge of 2022, sales tax receipts in New York grew much more slowly during the first four months of this year, according to from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's office. Statewide sales tax Read More