Daily Catch

Regional coalition pushes back on regional gas tax hike

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Organizations representing each New England state convened in Boston last week to voice their concerns about the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI), a regional coalition of 12 states and Washington DC that seeks to reduce carbon emissions within the transportation sector by pricing carbon and placing an artificial cap on how much of it can be produced from transportation-related sources within the region.

The TCI is a cap and trade program that would force fuel suppliers to purchase allowances for the carbon emitted by their fuel products. In effect, the TCI acts as a new 5 to 17 cent per gallon gas and diesel tax increase; the fees imposed on suppliers flow down to drivers and other consumers in the form of inflated prices paid at the pump.

The Maine Heritage Policy Center joined the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, the Ethan Allen Institute, Yankee Institute, and Americans for Prosperity New Hampshire for a press conference where each organization outlined why the TCI is a bad idea for their state and why it will ultimately fail.

When the TCI released its draft Memorandum of Understanding on December 17, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu immediately backed out of the plan, making New Hampshire the first state to reject the TCI. Since then, a number of elected officials throughout the region have voiced opposition to the TCI, but others, including Maine Gov. Janet Mills, remain on the fence about the initiative and “continue to monitor” its developments.

The long-term goals of the TCI –  getting people to transition to electric vehicles or use public transportation – really are not attainable in a state like Maine. Maine is huge compared to the rest of the region; it’s nearly large enough to fit the other five New England states within it.

Statewide population density is about 43 people per square mile, and that figure shrinks considerably depending on where you live. Aroostook County, for example, has a population density of about 11 people per square mile. In Piscataquis County, just 4 people per square mile.

The reality is that Maine is the most sparsely populated state in New England, the northeast, all states with an Atlantic coastline and all states east of the Mississippi River. We cannot flip a switch overnight and guarantee electric cars and public transportation for people with low incomes who live miles away from civilization, nor should these individuals, or any other Mainer, be penalized for not having access to these alternatives.

“Creating an unelected bureaucracy in order to collect a gas and diesel tax is not going to be a good deal for anybody,” said Rob Roper, president of the Ethan Allen Institute. “It’s a tremendously inefficient way to collect revenue and it’s a very undemocratic way to collect revenue, but this plan, should it go forward, would be particularly bad for rural states like Vermont.”

Jake Posik of The Maine Heritage Policy Center echoed the same sentiment.

“Private vehicle transportation is not a luxury in Maine, it is a necessity. Individuals who live in rural Maine could not survive without their own mode of transportation, and Mainers as a whole do not deserve to be penalized for going about their daily business, whether that’s driving to work, bringing their kids to school, running errands or visiting a doctor.”

Gov. Mills has not yet definitively signaled her intent to join or reject the TCI. Mainers have until the end of February to submit public comments to the TCI about the framework it released in December. Public comments can be submitted here.

About Adam Crepeau

Adam Crepeau serves as a policy analyst at The Maine Heritage Policy Center. He can be reached at acrepeau@mainepolicy.org.

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