Janet Mills still at table for regional gas tax hike as current phase ends, VA & NH out

Governor Janet Mills at the ribbon cutting of an electric vehicle charging station. Photo: Governor Janet Mills.

AUGUSTA – A twelve state coalition looking to implement a regional gas tax estimated at about 17-cents per gallon in the first year, then funnel the money into “green”, mostly urban transportation projects has ended the public comment phase of their work. While some states have withdrawn from the talks, or signaled hesitancy, Governor Janet Mills still has Maine at the table. This leaves Maine among ten remaining states and Washington D.C.

In mid-February, the state of Virginia announced they would not be signing on to the TCI regional agreement this spring. New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu had previously said his state would not be joining.

Vermont Governor Phil Scott also signaled during his State of the State address in January that he may not be inclined to join. If Vermont were to formally depart, it would be the third state to do so formally, reducing the TCI coalition to nine states.

In Maine, however, Governor Janet Mills has sought to put forward a guarded position that does not fully commit, but also keeps Maine at the table.

On one side, Mills has a group of state lawmakers, led by Speaker Sara Gideon, that previously signed on to a massive carbon tax bill that some estimated would raise gas and heating oil by 40 cents per gallon. Mills also has the Maine Climate Council, a bureaucracy of her own creation, looking at the TCI gas tax hike as one method to reduce the number of miles Mainers drive each year going forward.

On the other side, Mills has working Mainers, some who have submitted comments through the TCI portal expressing opposition and in some cases, outrage, that their already high transportation costs could be increased even more.

Non-profit groups such as the Sierra Club continue to push in favor of joining the TCI agreement, while groups such as Maine People Before Politics and Maine Heritage Policy Center speak out in opposition.

Compounding matters, a Blue Ribbon Transportation Commission created by the Legislature is at an impasse on how to provide more funding for road work across Maine. Some want to use existing transportation related revenue that goes to the general fund, others want to raise the gas tax to dedicate funding to roads, or use other new fees to raise revenue from Maine drivers.

A state-level gas tax increase on top of the TCI increase would create a double whammy on Maine drivers.

“Let’s fix the damn roads!” Governor Mills famously said in her State of the State address. While that sounded simple in her speech, she followed up with a supplemental budget proposal that was criticized for barely scratching the surface to provide the funding that Maine transportatio experts say Maine needs to close the funding gap.

The debate over the core funding for Maine’s roads and bridges comes at a time when Governor Mills’ transportation commissioner has said he is currently “managing the decline” of Maine’s transportation infrastructure.

The revenue from a TCI gas tax increase would not go toward that core transportation funding and reverse the decline due to the design of the program. Still, the TCI bureaucracy rolls on.

This spring, Mills must decide if she will sign a final TCI Memorandum of Understanding. A state’s signature on that agreement will trigger the process to move forward into implementation, with the final steps taken about twenty-two months from now to implement the first measures that raise gas prices.

According to the TCI Executive Summary, states could see a 17-cent per gallon increase in the cost of gasoline in the first year, with prices increased each year thereafter for a decade as the caps and costs are tightened to reduce driving and thus, carbon emissions.

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