June 14, 2012
By Andy Metzger and Colleen Quinn
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JUNE 14, 2012……Supporters of expanding the bottle deposit law to cover more types of beverages were outraged by a committee vote Thursday morning that will likely torpedo the proposal until next January, when the next legislative session begins.
“This committee is flying in the face of the sentiment of just about everyone in the commonwealth, and it’s a mockery,” said bottle bill supporter Janet Domenitz, executive director of MASSPIRG.
House Chair of the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Rep. John Keenan (D-Salem) likened the five-cent bottle deposit to a tax, and said that was the reason he wanted to send the proposal for further study.
“I think the House and the Legislature has taken the prudent course of not increasing taxes,” Keenan said during a Thursday morning committee meeting. “It is a recession. It is the Great Recession, and we’re trying to come out of it.”
The Legislature has held the line on tax hikes since raising the sales tax before and during the recession.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo has held a firm line against any new taxes or tax increases in the fiscal 2013 budget. Bottles and cans need to be recycled at redemption centers in order for consumers to recoup the deposit. The expansion was expected to bring in as much as $20 million in new state revenue from unreturned bottles.
The new bottle bill would expand the deposit program on beer and soda so that it also includes iced tea, fruit juice and other non-alcoholic, non-carbonated, bottled or canned drinks. Supporters of the proposal claim that it would reduce litter and the amount of waste sent to landfills. Opponents claim that stores do not have the capacity to handle an influx of newly returnable empties.
The telecommunications committee kept polls open after an initial vote of seven to five, at 10 a.m. Thursday, and the study amendment later passed by a vote of 10 to 7.
MASSPIRG claimed that it had polled the entire legislature and found that a slim majority in both chambers supports the bottle bill, indicating that it might have passed were it sent to the House or Senate floor. Sending the bill to study rather than recommending favorable or unfavorable action diminishes the bill’s chances of emerging.
A January 2011 poll by MassINC showed that 77 percent of people in Massachusetts support expanding the bottle bill. The support came from Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters. The bill’s strongest support was Boston and its inner suburbs, which backed it at an 83 percent clip. Even in the least popular region, Boston’s outer suburbs, the proposed bottle bill expansion had a 68 percent approval rate.
Senate Committee Chairman Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield), who favors an expanded law and voted against the study, acknowledged during the voting Thursday that the study would probably pass. “I’m disappointed,” Downing said after the vote.
Sen. James Eldridge (D-Acton), a committee member who voted against sending it to study, was visibly disappointed by the decision. Eldridge said with so much support among the public – with people going to their city councils and boards of selectmen to pass resolutions – it didn’t make sense to him to not act on the legislation.
“Seeing so much support from some members of the business community, municipal officials, activists, it’s incredibly disappointing,” Eldridge told the News Service. “And I think it adds a touch of cynicism to why the public gets frustrated with the Legislature when there is such a grassroots effort to pass a common sense bill and it gets put into study.”
The chances of the bill being pulled out of study and put up for a vote in the branches was unlikely, he said.
“As was shown by the rally yesterday a majority in both the House and Senate do support the bottle bill. So I don’t know if there will be an opportunity in the next six weeks to file it as an amendment to another bill or to bring it out of study. I think those things probably are unlikely, but they are possible.”
When asked if he would try to move the bill, Eldridge responded, “That is something I will be talking to fellow legislators and advocates about next week.”
Environmentalists claim the proposal, first filed 14 years ago, has been stymied because business interests don’t want it.
“There’s only one reason why they won’t bring it to the floor for a vote. They are beholden to the special interests that don’t want them to bring it to the floor for a vote. Because they know don’t have the votes. They’ll lose,” said James McCaffrey, director of the Sierra Club’s Massachusetts Chapter. “If this comes to the floor for a vote, we have the votes so they’re using a procedural maneuver to subvert democracy right here in the birthplace of freedom.”
A business and union coalition called Real Recycling for Massachusetts opposes the bottle bill expansion. According to a press release the coalition includes the Massachusetts Beverage Association, the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, Poland Spring Bottling Company and other interested businesses who said the state should expand curbside recycling rather than bottle deposits.
Last October, Domenitz and McCaffrey told the News Service that they would seek legislative approval of the measure rather than continuing an effort to gather signatures for a ballot question. It’s unclear whether another ballot initiative will be launched for 2014.
On Thursday afternoon, McCaffrey told the News Service that despite the setback, he is still hoping the bill is taken back up through the legislative process.
“We haven’t thought about that,” McCaffrey said. He also said, “As far as we’re concerned there are still options left in the legislature.”
Rep. Randy Hunt (R-Sandwich) said the state should look at more comprehensive recycling efforts, such as increasing the number of cities and towns that use a pay-as-you-throw trash collection system.
“If all of the towns would do that, it would be hugely helpful,” said Hunt, who voted for the study and said pay-as-you-throw had saved his town hundreds of thousands of dollars in trash fees.
The senators on the committee were split, while the House was more solidly in favor of the study. Sen. Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton) voted against the study, though he had previously moved for sending a similar proposal for study when it was raised during the Senate budget debate. Eldridge and Downing also voted against the study.
Senators Jennifer Flanagan (D-Leominster), Eileen Donoghue (D-Lowell) and Michael Knapik (R-Westfield) supported the study amendment. In addition to Keenan and Hunt, the representatives who supported the study included Stephen DiNatale (D-Fitchburg) Paul Adams (R-Andover), Carlo Basile (D-East Boston), Tom Golden (D-Lowell), and John Mahoney (D-Worcester).
House members opposed to the further study were Kate Hogan (D-Stow), Tackey Chan (D-Quincy), Rep. John Rogers (D-Norwood) and Walter Timilty (D-Milton).
That final tally roughly corresponds to MASSPIRG’s polling, with nearly every stated supporter of the bottle bill expansion voting against the study amendment in committee. Basile was the exception. MASSPIRG recorded him as saying he would vote for the bill and he voted for the study. Knapik was the only committee member MassPIRG recorded as opposed to the bottle bill; all the other members who voted for the study were non-participants in MASSPIRG’s poll.
June 14, 2012