November 18, 2019

Mainers can expect gas tax increase House votes down repeal of indexing that ties state levy to inflation

AUGUSTA – The state’s gas tax will likely go up July 1 as the result of a House vote Tuesday that blocked repeal of the annual indexing of the tax to inflation. The increase is less than 1 cent a gallon.

“A tax increase is a tax increase is a tax increase,” said Rep. Douglas Thomas, R-Ripley, “and this is a tax increase.”

Thomas said he sought the roll call vote on the measure to give lawmakers a chance to “live up to their promises” to oppose any tax increases this session. He was joined by 27 other Republicans, with the rest joining the Democrats in killing the bill 115-28. If the Senate agrees, as is expected, that will clear the way for the fuel tax increase to take effect.

“I think we need to distinguish ourselves from the other party,” Thomas said. “I tried to give people a chance to do that today. They are the ones that are going to have to live with what they did.”

The GOP’s House leadership split on the vote. Rep. Robert Crossthwaite, R-Ellsworth, the assistant floor leader, voted against the tax increase, but Rep. Josh Tardy, R-Newport, the floor leader, supported it. Tardy downplayed the apparent rift in the caucus, saying he expects other votes on the issue before the Legislature adjourns.

“I oppose indexing and there will be other opportunities to vote to repeal it,” he said. “This will not be the only vote on the issue.”

The Legislature has yet to consider the transportation budget for the next two years. The budget has been the target for amendments to repeal the indexing in recent years. None has succeeded since the indexing was adopted in 2002.

Sen. Dennis Damon, D-Trenton, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, expects the Senate will agree with the House when it votes on the measure. He also expects that any attempts to amend the budget to repeal indexing will fail.

Damon said no one likes taxes, but Mainers want their roads and bridges repaired and upgraded, and that takes money.

“Even with this gas tax increase,” he said, “the money that will be generated will not be sufficient to meet the needs. Mainers have made it clear they want better roads, and that costs … far more than what this generates.”

Rep. Boyd Marley, D-Portland, House chairman of the committee, said the additional funds generated by the tax increase would be “woefully short” of what is needed to start catching up with the backlog of highway construction needs.

“This increase matches the economic inflation increase but not what we have faced in the costs of highway construction,” Damon said. “That has run way above and ahead of economic inflation.”

Thomas was the only member of the Transportation Committee to oppose the increase. He agrees there is need for the $17 million the tax increase will raise for roads and bridges, but emphasized he had pledged to his constituents that he would oppose any tax increase if elected and he will not break that pledge.

“We’re raising enough now in taxes,” he said. “We have to set the priorities of where we are going to spend that revenue, and roads and bridges should be getting more of that revenue and it’s not.”

Maine’s fuel tax is now 28.3 cents a gallon for gasoline and 28.6 cents a gallon for diesel fuel. Those prices reflect a nine-tenths-of-a-cent-a-gallon increase that took effect last July 1. That is also the size of the increase likely to take effect this coming July 1.

State gas taxes in the continental United States range from 14 cents a gallon in Wyoming to 45 cents a gallon in Connecticut.

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