When the D.C Council approved a 5-cent tax on disposable bags last year, members said the money generated by the tax would go into a newly created fund to help pay for new initiatives to clean up the Anacostia River.
According to Trashfreeanacostia.com, which was created to help push for the tax, the money would promote conservation programs, monitor pollution, rebuild wetlands and help pay for new technologies to stop trash from entering the watershed.
But it turns out some of the bag tax money won't be used on anything that hasn't already been taking place in the District for decades.
As part of the budget that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) unveiled this morning, the city would spend "$2.6 million in disposable bag fee revenue to pay for street sweeping programs to keep litter out of the river," according to a summary of the budget distributed by the mayor's office.
By using bag tax revenue to clean streets, the city would save the money it spent last year on street sweeping in the Department of Public Works budget. Fenty's proposal is part of his effort to close a $555 million budget shortfall.
Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), sponsor of the bag tax proposal, was shocked to learn that the administration wants to use some of the revenue for street sweeping, which already takes place yearly in the District.
"We will take a look," Wells said. "I would not expect any of the bag tax fees to go for street sweeping."
But City Administrator Neil O. Albert said in an interview that it makes sense for some bag tax revenue to be used to free city streets of trash and grime.
"That is what it was meant for," Albert said. "Clean up the environment. Where do you think the trash goes? Into the Anacostia River."
Regardless of what it's used for, it's unclear how the revenue from the bag tax will live up to the expectations outlined in Fenty's budget proposal.
Including the $2.6 million for the street sweeping, the administration estimates that $4.1 million would be diverted to the Anacostia River Cleanup fund in fiscal 2011.
On Monday, however, city officials issued a report stating that the bag tax generated only $150,000 in January, the first month that the law went into effect. With revenues expected to continue to decline as more people adapt to reusable bags, the report states that the tax will probably generate far less than had been projected.