The New York State Retail Council in a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week backed a delay of the 5-cent fee on carry-out bags in New York City, but not because merchants will be able to pocket the surcharge.

“We support the captioned bill because its overarching concept speaks directly to a growing concern among retailers of all size operating not only in New York City, but throughout the state: the growing policy-based aspirations of local governments,” wrote Ted Potrikus, the Retail Council president and CEO. “While potentially well-intentioned, localized policy agendas increase costs for local governments, local taxpayers, and local businesses.”

Still, the council in the letter to Cuomo says the bag fee is more preferable than an outright ban on plastic bags in New York City.

“It is true that the City’s pending law would allow merchants to retain the entirety of the five-cent fee, but few merchants think the nickel-a-bag ‘profit’ would be worth the attendant administrative costs and the public backlash that awaits every time the cash register attendant adds the fee for each bag a customer would need,” Potrikus wrote.

“Retailers are caught somewhere in the middle: we didn’t ask for the fee, we don’t like the fee, we don’t want to charge the fee, and yet, for a variety of reasons economic and environmental, it is far preferable to a ban on plastic bags in New York City.”

The letter comes as Cuomo is mulling a bill that would delay the implementation of the fee, set to take effect next week. If the fee is delayed and overrule the city Council, the measure would likely die.

Merchants, meanwhile, feel stuck in the middle — like Cuomo — in the debate over the environment versus what many consider to be a regressive tax.

“Supporters of New York City’s pending five-cent-per-carryout-bag fee pitch the levy as environmentally sound, saving the City from a perceived scourge of plastic shopping bags,” Potrikus wrote. “While the retail industry recognizes and appreciates that the fee would supplant the far-less desirable ban on the use of plastic carryout bags, we are concerned that the underpinning message blames the city’s retail industry for an environmental disaster but simultaneously puts it in line to score a new profit center from it.”

Bag Moratorium by Nick Reisman on Scribd