Democrats vote down bill that would have cut tax on phone bills due to fund surplus

Maine State House and Cross Building in Spring 2019.

AUGUSTA – A bill that started as a way to shift power from the legislature to the Maine Public Utilities Commission in setting Maine’s E-9-1-1 tax was voted down by Democrats in the Maine House of Representatives yesterday after the Maine PUC testified that they would actually use that new authority to reduce the current tax rate.

The tax, applied on the monthly phone bills for mobile and landline phones and at the point of sale for prepaid mobile purchases, has, according to the PUC’s testimony, built up a surplus that is more than needed, and thus, the tax should be reduced.

Instead of moving forward with the bill, which was initially sponsored by Rep. Seth Berry (D – Bowdoin), House Democrats voted the bill down in a party line vote.

The Democrat unity in opposing the bill resulted in the strange occurrence of Rep. Berry actually voting down his own bill.

The bill was voted ought not to pass in a strict party line vote, with all Democrats voting to kill the bill, and Republicans voting to pass it and allow the PUC to reduce the tax. The roll call vote came in at 87-54.

Five of the House’s six “independent” Representatives joined Democrats in voting against the bill, while one, Rep. Don Marean, voted with Republicans.

The Maine PUC testimony said that while the needs of the 911 system vary from year to year, the funds in the working balance for the program well exceeded the needs of the program and any unplanned contingencies, so they would be using the authority the law provided them to reduce the tax.

The fund is used to cover the administrative and program costs of the 911 system, including nine staffers, equipment and call-taker training.

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