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Opposition to Janet Mills’ gas tax scheme pours in to state coalition she’s negotiating deal with

Governor Janet Mills celebrates a new charging station at the West Gardiner Turnpike Plaza. Photo courtesy Office of Governor Janet Mills.

AUGUSTA – Maine People Before Politics, a non-profit focused on protecting Maine taxpayers is urging “every Maine business and family that relies on gasoline- or diesel-fueled transportation” to comment opposing Governor Janet Mills’ plan to enter Maine into a new California-style ‘cap and trade’ deal in Maine. It appears that some Mainers have been doing just that.

Opponents of the initiative say that the deal will raise gas and diesel taxes to unaffordable levels on Mainers who live in a largely rural state. They say Maine’s lower-income and older populations will be irreparably harmed by the agreement.

They also point out that traditional Maine industries such as forestry will be acutely impacted, but that Maine’s economy relies so heavily on trucking goods into the more than 400 communities spread across Maine’s expansive geography, that virtually no Mainer will be spared the pain.

“The agreement’s effects will be far-reaching,” says Julie Rabinowitz, Policy and Communications Director at Maine People Before Politics.

“In addition to jacking up fuel costs by what could be 20 cents per gallon or more, the TCI will increase the costs of farming and transporting food,” Rabinowitz says. “This is a regressive tax on Mainers who cannot afford electric vehicles.

A review of the public comments submitted to the Transportation Climate Initiative through October 25 shows that the strong majority of the comments from Mainers are in opposition to Governor Mills entering the agreement. In fact, Mainers are heading the opposition to the initiative overall among the twelve states and District of Columbia that are involved in the scheme.

Of the 150 comments submitted by Mainers that have been published so far, 89, or about 60% have expressed opposition to Governor Janet Mills entering the TCI. Another 4% of the comments do not provide enough information to determine if the comment is in support or opposition.

The remaining comments from Mainers, 55 in total, express some measure of support for the initiative. Of those 55 comments, 24 of them, or about 44%, identify an affiliation with a climate change group such as the Natural Resources Council of Maine or the Citizen’s Climate Lobby.

The 150 comments so far from Mainers represent just over 50% of the total public comments from all states that have been submitted so far.

Many of the comments in support of the scheme echo one another, such as the comments from Natasha Mayers of Whitefield and Susan Drucker of Bowdoinham.

“Our state needs an ambitious plan to reduce climate-changing transportation pollution. Working together with neighboring states makes sense,” said Mayers in her written comment.

“Maine needs an ambitious plan to reduce climate-changing transportation pollution that is coordinated with neighboring states,” opens Drucker’s comment.

On the flip side, those urging Mills not to enter the agreement mostly appear to express concern about the impact of low-income and rural Mainers and the elderly, or Maine’s economy in general.

“In a state where the median age is constantly rising increasing insurance cost etc. How can it even be a thought to drive up fuel cost that would absolutely drive up the cost of living in our state. The affects would continue to drive young people out of our state magnifying the problem. All this aside how about a Governor that promised not to raise taxes after increasing state budget by 800 million dollars,” says Nate Hatch, an Independent from Gorham.

Former State Representative Heather Sirocki from Scarborough’s comment takes on both the affordability and legality of the scheme, “I strongly urge the State of Maine to remove itself from the TCI. Poor, rural, hard-working Mainers will be hit especially hard.  All taxes must originate in the Maine House of Representatives. Any fees, fines, or assessments are actually a hidden tax and require legislative approval. Maine’s involvement in the TCI is contrary to Maine law.”

According to a recent report from Politico, the framework of the TCI agreement would reportedly involve states agreeing to implement a new tax on gasoline and diesel fuel which they would invest in mass-transit and electric vehicle charging stations, among other things.

For some states with dense urban centers, mass-transit may be more viable, but in Maine the concept looks a lot like a punishing new tax that hits rural and suburban Mainers for a slight benefit to Mainers in two or three population centers.

“Please do not join this group of states. Living in Maine means that we have to travel long distances to get “anywhere.” I travel over 25 miles one way, just to get groceries once a week,” writes Renee McKenna of West Tremont. “An action made by you which will result in an added tax or price increase to me makes it harder for me to take care of just the basics in life. Please for the love of Pete, do not make life harder for Mainers. It’s just that simple, Janet. Really…”

“Maine is a rural state and adding costs to fossil fuels will hurt our economy tremendously. We can’t afford higher transportation costs and the associated inflation associated with that (unlike more densely populated states). We also will take a disproportional hit on the cost of heating our homes and businesses,” says Kevin Webb, a taxpayer from Augusta. “This is unacceptable as an outcome but clearly what these proposals will make happen.”

Peter Starr, a private contractor from Hermon says he sees some merit in the concept, but that it is not a good fit for Maine, “I believe this initiative does have some merit but unfortunately the side effects will impact everyone in the state. I look at California’s current situation with $5 + gas prices which doesn’t just effect business but private citizens as well. This is another detrimental effect on our economy costing all businesses to suffer and subsequently leave Maine. Small business can’t afford additional costs to operate and end up passing it on to their customers or going out of business. Our rural state is not a good fit for this kind of plan.”

On the side of supporting the TCI, some supporters seem keen on pushing that the new tax is high enough that it will slow people’s use of fossil fuels, such as Tom Rumpf of Brunswick.

“Thank you for trying to address the climate crisis in a bipartisan way by pricing carbon. I hope you will ensure that any carbon price is high enough to create sufficient incentive to reduce carbon levels substantially, and that the policy will have a mechanism for minimizing impacts on low income folks,” said Rumpf, who says he is a community volunteer from Brunswick.

Overall, comments from Mainers in opposition to joining the TCI represent 30% of all testimony submitted from the twelve states and District of Columbia.

Modeled on California’s “cap-and-trade” program, some estimates have pegged the initial price increase to be 12 to 14 cents per gallon for Mainers, but that could increase over time.

California’s gas prices have recently surged past $4 per gallon in some regions and have neared $5 per gallon, according to a report this week from the Wall Street Journal.

The Transportation Climate Initiative website says public comment is most helpful if received by November 5, 2019. Public comment may be submitted through the TCI online portal by clicking here.

Recent news accounts have indicated that Maine may already be “carbon neutral” – a goal Governor Mills laid out in a speech at the United Nations. A member of Mills’ new “Climate Council” has admitted that nobody has completed a carbon budget to ascertain if Maine is carbon neutral right now or not.

A report from Maine Examiner says that Maine may have actually become carbon neutral under Governor Paul LePage due to declining emissions, but until a carbon budget is completed, nobody will know.

Governor Mills’ motivation for entering the TCI would appear to be borne out of a desire to achieve that goal. It is unclear if Mills would spare Mainers the gasoline and diesel tax if a carbon budget showed Maine was already carbon neutral. Some liberal environmental groups are suggesting that Mills is not going far enough.

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