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On Janet Mills’ gas tax, records show many more Mainers spoke out against agreement than for it

Governor Janet Mills speaks at the unveiling of a state-funded electric vehicle charging station.

AUGUSTA – The final tally of the official public comments from Maine people to a new gas tax imposed through the Transportation & Climate Initiative, a twelve-state coalition that plans to impose a new tax on gasoline and diesel, is overwhelmingly in opposition to Maine’s entrance into the agreement.

The coalition, which is attempting to bring together twelve states including Maine, and Washington D.C. is working to implement a new regional tax on gasoline and diesel which the non-profit Maine People Before Politics has estimated to be from 13 to 20 cents per gallon. The tax is modeled on California’s cap-and-trade system, which analysts say is a driving force behind California’s highest in the nation gas prices.

Analysis of the official public comment posted on the TCI website, where public comment was accepted through November 5th, shows that Mainers are overwhelmingly opposed to their state entering the agreement.

Of the 432 comments submitted by Mainers in support or opposition to the new gas tax agreement, more than 68% were opposed to Governor Janet Mills entering the agreement.

Many of the recent comments submitted by Mainers are in line with the first round of comments, which Maine Examiner covered here.

A significant number of comments in support of the agreement start with identical, apparently canned statement, which was probably provided by an environmental special interest group. Those statements begin with, “Our outdated transportation system is Maine’s largest source of climate pollution—and it doesn’t even meet the needs of Maine people.”

On the opposition side, many Mainers continue to express concerns that Maine, being a rural state, will be harmed by a new gas tax that they say Mainers can’t afford.

Those comments mostly express concern for the damage the tax will do to rural Mainers, lower income and working Mainers and elderly Mainers. Other comments focus on the overall damage a new gas tax will do to the Maine economy and Maine businesses.

A number of comments in support of the gas tax are from special interest groups that focus on environmental issues.

Almost 63% of the public comment from the twelve states and District of Columbia that was submitted since October 25 is from Maine.

Ellen from Litchfield, wrote in opposition to the gas tax based on the impact it would have on Mainers, “I am very concerned about any new costs related to driving. I drive daily in my employment and any new costs would be quite burdensome.

“My other concern is the burden on the poor. Many already cannot afford to drive in this state. The poor, disabled and elderly would have more reason why they cannot afford to drive which impedes independence as well as raise the costs of services for this population.

“Another question I have is why is there not enough money to pay for this? When I make a budget I include costs that have not happened yet but know will. Why is there no money? We pay gas tax, sales tax, registration and excise tax, tolls, property tax, income tax, inspection fees, and fed taxes, yet, there is no money for this. I question the competency of all who are wasting the money that we are told is for the same thing.”

David R., who claims an affiliation with the Natural Resources Defense Council, takes the approach that despite the reality that Maine produces virtually zero of the world’s net carbon dioxide emissions, Maine should still be entered into the gas tax agreement.

“Carbon emissions and global climate change are issues that transcend all geopolitical boundaries. Carbon emissions are a sum total game. No matter where you live on the planet you are being impacted by rising carbon levels. The spot on the earth where the carbon is emitted is irrelevant. Each molecule contributes to the overall global level,” said Reece.

“For this reason I wholeheartedly endorse the TCI. By virtue of it’s regional approach, the TCI addresses the issue of carbon reduction on a scale that begins to match the scale of the problem. Furthermore, cap and invest programs and other financial motives have a proven track record in reducing emissions. Because we’re all in this together, we’ll have greater success if we act together.”

Reece’s claim that such a program has a proven track record in reducing emissions appears to be contradicted by official U.S. Energy Information Administration data released in October of this year that shows emissions actually rose in the years following a similar program being implemented in California.

California’s program, which TCI is modeled on, went into effect in 2015. According to the official US EIA data, California’s carbon emissions from petroleum in transportation rose by 5.6% from 2015 to 2017.

California’s transportation related emissions from gasoline and diesel two years after implementing cap-and-trade actually rose to the highest level since 2008.

In that same time period under Governor Paul LePage, Maine’s carbon emissions from petroleum in transportation remained flat, and overall carbon emissions from transportation declined by just over 5%.

Reece’s argument that it doesn’t matter where carbon emissions are produced is one that supporters are likely going to find themselves making in future attempts to seek new taxes or regulations on Mainers.

Mills has taken criticism in recent days for labeling people posting on social media opposing the gas tax “trolls” in an interview with Maine Public.

As Maine Examiner reported, the Mills administration has yet to complete a “carbon budget” to determine where Maine stands on our carbon emissions. Due to Maine’s vast forests and relatively low carbon emissions, the state may have actually passed carbon neutral status during the LePage administration.

The Maine Republican Party has launched an online petition calling on Speaker Sara Gideon not to support Gov. Janet Mills’ gas tax via Maine’s entry into the TCI agreement.

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