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Nickel and Diming
Wed August 14, 2013
Anyone Remember the Bottle Bill?
The state Supreme Court has overturned a $6 million award to beer and soda distributors who sued the state.
Here's the takeaway according to Bob Clark, special counsel to the state attorney general. "It's a good day for the state in the sense that a judgment that would have required us to pay a little more than $5.6 million plus six percent interest going back to early 2009 plus some six-figure amount of attorneys' fees the state's not going to have to pay." This is not an easy story to explain. Let's try. Every time you buy can or a bottle or soda, or a beer, you pay an additional five cent deposit on the can or bottle itself. If you return the bottle or can to the store, you can get that five cents back. If you don't, what happens to the nickel? Historically, that nickel was kept by the beverage wholesalers. But in 2009, the state decided that the money belonged to the people...and therefore to the state budget. So the legislature passed a law saying as much. It also went back and took four months of deposits from before the law was enacted. It was that last part -- the reach back -- that upset the wholesalers who thought it violated their constitutional property rights. They filed suit and won a $6 million judgment at trial. But yesterday, the state Supreme Court overturned that decision and said the wholesalers hadn't made their case. Jim Robertson represents a number of the beer and soft drink wholesalers and distributors. "The constitution protects citizens from having the state seize their money without compensation and, if the state is going to reach backwards into money that has already been earned by these citizens, there's a very strict constitutional analysis that applies." The state says it collects between $25 million and $30 million a year from the program. Robertson says his clients haven't yet decided whether to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.