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This week, Montgomery County approved a 5-cent levy on paper and plastic bags, becoming the first Maryland jurisdiction to institute a "bag tax." But it likely won't be the last.

Already state lawmakers are laying the groundwork to expand the tax statewide. DC has had tax on disposable bags at food store since January 2010. The Montgomery County bag tax, which will take effect in January, extends to more kinds of retailers.

Prince George's County lawmakers pursued a bag tax earlier this year but couldn't get the legislation passed. Montgomery and Baltimore city and county are the only three areas with taxing authority; the 21 other counties need state legislative approval first.

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The Baltimore City Council bagged a proposed bag tax in 2009. Councilman Bill Henry had sought a whopping 25-cents per bag -- a high enough number, he figured, to end the disposable bag addiction.

Bag taxes at the local level are spreading across the country, though the National Conference of State Legislatures noted in February that no state had instituted a statewide tax.

The Gazette reported that Del. Alfred C. Carr Jr., a Montgomery County Democrat who championed a bag tax this session, thinks Montgomery's bag tax "continues the momentum."

Carr's statewide plan would have required stores to charge 5 cents for each disposable bag. Stores would be able to keep one cent -- two if they offered a "customer bag credit program."

Most of the revenue raised would have gone to the Chesapeake Bay Trust. The fiscal note doesn't provide a solid estimate of how much money the tax would generate.

"While the total amount of bag fee revenue that will be allocated to the trust cannot be reliably estimated, it is anticipated to be significant, based on revenue generated over the past year by the District of Columbia's new bag program."

However, The Washington Post recently noted that DC's bag tax "is generally viewed as an environmental success, if not necessarily a fiscal one." The Post said consumers quickly and overwhelmingly stopped using disposable bags.

If lawmakers succeed in passing a statewide bag tax next session, the question is, will Montgomery County be double-bag-taxed?

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