NH withdraws from regional gas tax push but Gov. Janet Mills is still at the table

Left: New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu signs an executive order. Right: Maine Governor Janet Mills strikes a pose with new solar panels installed on the lawn of the Blaine House.

AUGUSTA – As the Transportation and Climate Initiative enters a critical new stage, Gov. Chris Sununu has seen enough and he has announced that New Hampshire is pulling out of the multi-state gas tax agreement. Maine Governor Janet Mills, however, is still at the table considering Maine’s role in the effort.

The coalition, commonly referred to as TCI, is styled similarly to California’s “Cap and Trade” system which many say has driven the state’s gas prices to the highest in the continental United States. Under a new framework announced this week, participating states would collect what amounts to $7 billion per year in taxes through an auction style program.

The Maine Heritage Policy Center says that amounts to an initial increase of about 17 cents per gallon of gasoline for Maine’s drivers, with more increases expected between 2022 and 2032.

Maine People Before Politics also weighed in, saying the aim of TCI is to make people drive less or use “greener” transportation methods, but that isn’t an option for many Mainers, especially those with lower incomes or living in rural areas. MPBP has previously predicted the TCI would amount to a 13 to 20 cent per gallon gas tax for Mainers.

In the previous stage of TCI, the coalition accepted feedback from the public. For Maine’s part, feedback was overwhelmingly opposed to entering the agreement, with 68% of the public comment from Maine saying Maine should not enter into the TCI.

That level of public opposition and widespread anger about a potential gas tax increase didn’t seem to deter Gov. Janet Mills. In an interview with Maine Public’s Mal Leary, Mills called those speaking out against TCI “trolls” and said the outcry was “not worth responding to.”

Both Maine Heritage Policy Center and Maine People Before Politics say Maine people should once again weigh in on the TCI agreement through an online portal at the TCI website.

Click here for TCI Public Comment Form

During an interview with Howie Carr, former Governor Paul LePage assailed the TCI agreement, saying that because most of the food Maine people rely on arrives by truck, the agreement will have an immediate impact on food prices.

“What they don’t realize Howie, is in the state of Maine, eighty percent of all food that is consumed comes in by truck. So if you increase the fuel tax, it’s gonna hit the dinner table the fastest of any other tax there is that you could put on the market,” said LePage.

LePage also weighed in on Janet Mills and many of her climate change policies.

“Every time I say who is it impacting most, it’s the hard-working Mainers and it’s the elderly,” said LePage. “You know something else Howie, they scream about windmills, and solar panels on roofs. The only people that can afford solar panels on their roof are people that can have two heating systems. And you know, the people in all the mobile home parks in Maine are paying for it, because they get, they have to pay a supplemental charge so that we can put solar panels on $400,000 homes in the Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Yarmouth area. It’s just sad and sickening.”

In a letter to Governor Janet Mills, the Maine Heritage Policy Center said the TCI amounts to a “sin tax.” Because the revenue from the tax doesn’t go back toward Maine’s roads and bridges as in a fee-for-use model, it instead tries to curtail what the government sees as “bad behavior”, like tobacco or liquor taxes.

“But, unlike motor fuel taxes levied to pay for roads, bridges, and transportation infrastructure (a reasonable fee for use), the TCI would be the equivalent of a “sin tax” – a penalty for engaging in bad behavior. We do not believe that driving to and for work, transporting children to school, transporting goods, going to the grocery store, and all the other necessary activities that generally require a vehicle should be treated by governments as a sin. These are not activities people can, or should be forced to, avoid,” says the letter from MHPC to Governor Mills.

In announcing New Hampshire’s withdrawal from the TCI coalition, Governor Chris Sununu said, “New Hampshire will not be participating in the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI). I will not force Granite Staters to pay more for their gas just to subsidize other state’s crumbling infrastructure. We are already taking substantial steps to curb our carbon emissions, & this initiative, if enacted, would institute a new gas tax by up to 17 cents per gallon while only achieving minimal results. This program is a financial boondoggle and the people of NH will never support it. Under this scheme, NH drivers would be forced to pay a significant new gas tax with little environmental benefit to NH. Rural communities would be left at a severe disadvantage if we participated in the TCI, as drivers will bear the brunt of the artificially higher gas prices.”

Mainers however, have experienced something quite different than their neighbors in New Hampshire this year. While Sununu has opposed efforts to impose new taxes, Mainers have faced a barrage of attempts to raise taxes on gas and heating oil.

Early in the first session of the Maine Legislature, Rep. Deane Rykerson proposed what would amounted to a 40 cent per gallon tax on gas and heating oil, calling it a carbon tax. That proposal, which was eventually defeated when Mainers marched on Augusta, was sponsored by more than half of Democrats in the Maine Legislature, including Speaker Sara Gideon.

In the months that have followed, numerous attempts to raise the gas tax, diesel tax and fees associated with driving have been attempted, with the latest push coming from a Blue Ribbon Commission on transportation funding.

Currently, Mainers face efforts to raise the gas tax on both a state and multi-state level. Governor Janet Mills “Climate Council” was also recently been revealed to have been offered the Maine DOT driving data of Maine people collected since April of this year to try and craft ways to reduce Maine’s emissions from transportation. That could lead to tax-per-mile scenario or other efforts to raise taxes.

The Maine Wire says Governor Mills’ office declined to answer questions about Maine joining the coalition or how it would be implemented in Maine.

AAA Gas prices by state

Maine Heritage Policy Center letter to Governor Janet Mills on TCI

TCI would raise gas taxes by up to 17 cents per gallon, do little to curb emissions

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