2018 | Business

Business Notes: Montgomery County Bag Tax Revenue Hints at Potential Decline in Disposable Bag Usage

Plus: Rockville office supply companies merge; Maryland adds 3,200 jobs in March

A Montgomery County graphic promoting the use of reusable bags

Montgomery County website

County’s bag tax revenue’s recent drop hints at potential decline in paper and plastic bag usage

Part of the impetus behind the 5-cent per bag tax in Montgomery County was to try to get more people to use reusable bags, rather than the thin plastic or paper ones commonly given out at grocery stores and other retailers that often end up as litter. However, county data shows that since the tax went into effect in 2012, the revenue from the tax has increased every year, as has the number of bags taxed, possibly meaning consumer behavior wasn’t influenced by the tax. In fiscal 2013, the first full year of the 5-cent bag tax, about 59.7 million bags were taxed, which generated about $2.39 million in revenue. With the exception of fiscal 2016, the revenue has increased each year:

  • 2014 – $2.41 million in revenue from 60.20 million bags taxed
  • 2015 – $2.49 million from 62.3 million bags taxed
  • 2016 – $2.48 million from 62.0 million bags taxed
  • 2017 – $2.61 million from 65.18 million bags taxed

Since July 2017, the county has raised about $1.745 million from taxing 43.63 million bags, which is slightly below the pace of the 2017 figures for the same period, Department of Environmental Protection officials told the County Council on Monday. The officials told the council’s environmental committee this could be a sign that paying the tax is beginning to change consumer behavior and thus reduce the number of bags being used in the county.

Keith Levechenko, a senior legislative analyst for the council, said Monday the county “may be finally coming to that point where we reach the peak.” Previously, officials believed bag tax revenue continued to rise because the county was bringing more retailers into the bag tax program. In council agenda documents, council staff noted the number of participating retailers rose from 1,463 in June 2017 to 1,500 at the end of February 2018. 


Two local office supply companies merge

Andy Stern, left, with Danny and Sandy Benjamin. Provided photo.

Two local family-owned office supply companies—Andy Stern’s Office Furniture and Benjamin Office Supply & Services—announced they merged this month. Both companies plan to keep their own identities in marketing materials, although Stern’s Office Furniture will become a division of Benjamin Office Supply.

Stern’s moved its headquarters from Beltsville to the Benjamin offices on East Gude Drive in Rockville, although Stern's will maintain its Washington, D.C., showroom. The merger allows both businesses to offer their clients office furniture as well as day-to-day office supplies such as paper, coffee and cleaning items, according to Andy Stern and Danny Benjamin.

Benjamin said the merger enables his company, which specializes in office supplies, to work with Stern’s clients, who often spend thousands on office furniture.

“If a customer is trusting someone with thousands of dollars … they’re more than willing to give us an opportunity to sell something to them on an everyday basis,” Benjamin said. “It’s a successful combination of two great local companies.”

Stern noted that he has been working at his business for 41 years and although he doesn’t plan to retire soon, the merger creates a way for his clients to continue to receive office supply services from a local company. Stern, a graduate of Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, noted that Danny Benjamin’s parents, who founded Benjamin Office Supply in 1981, graduated within five years of him.


Maryland added 3,200 new jobs in March, but unemployment rate rises

Maryland’s unemployment rate rose to 4.3 percent, a slight uptick despite the state adding 3,200 jobs in March. It was the fifth straight month that the unemployment rate rose in the state since it hit a low of 3.8 percent in October. The state Department of Labor did not explain in a press release how the unemployment rate increased despite the job gains. However, it reported sectors that gained jobs included 1,500 jobs in the professional and business services sector and 1,400 jobs gained in the trade, transportation and utilities sector—including 2,000 jobs in retail subsector, which were offset by about 600 job losses in the warehouses and wholesale trade subsector.

Job losses were experienced in the financial activities, manufacturing, education, health services and information sector, with the largest decrease—600 jobs—in finance and insurance. The state’s unemployment rate now is now higher than the national average of 4.1 percent.