Supporters of expanding the bottle deposit law to cover more types of beverages were outraged by a committee vote Thursday morning that will probably torpedo the proposal until 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 the public interest group MASSPIRG.
The House chairman of the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, John Keenan, Democrat of Salem, likened the 5 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 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 A. 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 to include iced tea, fruit juice, and other non-alcoholic, non-carbonated, bottled or canned drinks. Supporters of the proposal say it would reduce litter and the amount of waste sent to landfills. Opponents say stores do not have the capacity to handle an influx of newly returnable empties.
The committee kept voting open after an initial tally of 7 to 5, at 10 a.m. Thursday, and the study amendment later passed by a vote of 10 to 7.
MASSPIRG said it had polled the Legislature and found that a slim majority in both chambers supports the bill. Sending a bill to study usually kills it for the session.
A January 2011 poll by MassINC showed that 77 percent of respondents supported expanding the bottle bill. The support came from Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters. The bill’s strongest support was Boston and its inner suburbs, where respondents backed it at an 83 percent clip. Even respondents in the least popular region, Boston’s outer suburbs, backed the proposal at a 68 percent rate.
Senator Benjamin Downing, Democrat of Pittsfield, the committee cochairman, who voted against the study, acknowledged the study would probably pass. “I’m disappointed,” Downing said after the vote.