Rick Baker and Recycling: Will he keep it? It's complicated. Very complicated.
At Wednesday night’s Council of Neighborhood Associations’ mayoral forum, perhaps the biggest news of the night was former mayor Rick Baker’s remarks on recycling.
The Tampa Bay Times story on the forum noted his ambivalence about the program and reported that he didn’t promise to keep the program as it currently works: a monthly $2.95 charge for single-family homes for twice monthy curbside (or alley, depending on the neighborhood) pickup.
On Thursday, Baker said that his position has been misrepresented, taking particular issue with the following sentence in this story: “He would not promise to keep the program.”
His opponent, Mayor Rick Kriseman made such a promise. Baker did not. But the former mayor objected to the story, saying his position had been turned "upside down."
“I didn’t promise not to tear down the Sunshine Skyway bridge either,” Baker said.
But when asked again Thursday if he promised to keep the program, Baker demurred, saying he intended to keep it, but would evaluate its effectiveness, similar to his previous stance on the subject as reported in the Times.
“You don’t know 1000 percent certainty about anything,” he said.
Recyling dominated the local news cycle in 2015 when Kriseman debuted the program, which had a few initial bumps. But it's been largely absent from the 2017 mayoral campaign.
Here is the entirety of Baker’s comments on recycling. Decide for yourself his position on universal curbside recycling.
“So when I was in office we had voluntary recycling so anybody in the city could get curbside recycling but it was voluntary. And the mayor wanted to do mandatory curbside recyling. The reason I was never in favor of that is because it’s a regressive tax on the poorest people of our community.
And people say well that’s not that much money, they’re not paying something. I was in Childs Park recently sitting down with a lady who had just had breast cancer. And she has to come up with $17 to get probiotics every two weeks in order to deal with what she’s going through. And she was telling me that she has trouble scraping that together. So I am always, always, always, very sensitive before I start imposing those types of fees and taxes on people.
To try to remember and understand that there are people in our community that just can’t afford that kind of thing. And so, I’m not saying I’m going to get rid of mandatory curbside recycling, which is what we have now, but I will evaluate, I will evaluate how it’s going, whether it’s working and I will evaluate whether it’s improving the environment. To me, I believe in , we started the first green city program in the state of Florida, environment. We were a leader in environment for the entire state of Florida. I believe in that. I want to make sure that the mandatory curbside recycling is helping the environment and that it’s not crushing the poorest people in our community."
Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam Smith, who moderated the event, then jumped in : "So the door is wide open to canceling the mandatory?"
Baker responded: " No, I didn’t say that. My intention is to keep it, but I’ll evaluate it as we go forward because you always want to improve and make sure it’s better and that it works."
Enter Kriseman: “Just one brief statement. If you want to know why we didn’t have curbside recycling when Mr. Baker was mayor, go to the green cities document that’s on the city’s website where he says that citywide curbisde recycling would be bad for the environment."
Baker responded: "And what I said, was, it was, it was mandatory, it was a regressive tax on the poorest people in the community. And it is. It is. But I’m not, now you’re, Adam, you’re trying to put words in my mouth, I’m not saying get rid of it, I think any program that you have in the city you have to evaluate to make sure it’s working and prove that it’s (unintelligble.)"