The vote was a tie, but the draw meant a bill that would tax newsprint died in its House Environmental Affairs Committee hearing.
The vote for H.B. 1234 probably wouldn’t have been that close except for some political wrangling, said Steve Key, executive director and general counsel for HSPA.
Legislators knew the bill would have been recommitted to the House Ways and Means Committee to assess its fiscal impact, and there was little chance that group would hear the bill before the deadline to pass bills out of committee.
“That fact allowed Republican representatives to vote with their chairman without hurting Indiana newspapers since they knew the bill would die anyway,” Key said.
Rep. David Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, Environmental Affairs Committee chairman and author of H.B. 1234, started the committee hearing by amended his bill. He softened the tax and threshold for the fee in an effort to garner enough votes to pass the bill out of committee.
His amendment lowered the tax to $10 a ton and would impact only newsprint that failed to contain at least 20 percent recycled fiber content.
The amendment also directed collected taxes to a fund for recycling projects.
Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, asked Wolkins if that fund was the one the Indiana Department of Environmental Management had suspended. Wolkins confirmed it was.
That meant the tax would have been collected but not used by the state.
Rep. Dick Dodge, R-Pleasant Lake, asked why newspapers were singled out when other waste categories, such as plastics and cardboard, contribute more tonnage to area landfills.
Wolkins said the problem was the cost for Solid Waste Management Districts to deal with newspapers slated to be recycled and not those going into the landfill. Several representatives of solid waste districts testified in favor of H.B. 1234.
Key noted later that the bill’s passage would have meant Indiana newspapers were the victims of their own success.
In the early 1990s, legislators were concerned about landfills running out of space and urged Indiana newspapers to increase efforts to recycle newspapers. Today, the federal Environmental Protection Agency reports that 88 percent of newspapers are recycled – a higher percent than any product other than lead-acid batteries.
Wolkins’ bill was based on the premise that manufacturers should help pay for the cost of disposing of their product. He didn’t explain why newspapers, which account for less than 5 percent of what goes into landfills, should be the target of a punitive tax rather than another category of waste.
Bill Masterson, publisher of The Times of Northwest Indiana (Munster), testified against the bill, as did Key for HSPA, and Vince Griffin, director of environmental and energy policy for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
Masterson explained that the number of paper mills that produce newsprint has dwindled from nearly 130 to 53 in the past 15 years – limiting the ability for Indiana newspapers to acquire newsprint with the required level of recycled fiber content called for by Wolkins to avoid the tax.
Masterson said passage of the tax could push him to move his printing operations from Lake County to nearby Illinois, meaning a loss of Indiana jobs.
Griffin pointed out that the legislature has imposed product liability fees in the past only when waste is toxic. He stressed that newspapers are not toxic and are recycled at a high level.