Inside Augusta

Focus shifts to Governor Mills on TCI gas tax

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The pressure is on Janet Mills as the public comment period on the draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) of the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) comes to a close. Citizens and stakeholders had until the end of February to submit their input on the draft MOU released in December, and the public must now wait for the TCI to release the final MOU before states can enter into the regional agreement.

The TCI is 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, depending on the framework the TCI unveils in its final MOU, scheduled for release this spring. The fees imposed on suppliers flow down to drivers and other consumers in the form of inflated prices paid at the pump.

Unlike the regular gas tax, the revenues received from the tax incorporated in the TCI would not be used to fix Maine’s roads and bridges. Instead, the funds would be used to expand Maine’s clean energy transportation infrastructure, including electric vehicle charging stations, electric buses and other “clean” infrastructure.

With the public comment period over, the attention shifts to the TCI and the governors of the 12 states that make up the regional coalition. New Hampshire has already withdrawn its support from the TCI. When the draft MOU was released in late 2019, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu called the TCI a “boondoggle” and said he would not subject citizens of the Live Free or Die State to a new gas tax.

In addition, Virginia has signaled it does not intend to enter into the TCI, though it has not yet made an official decision. It is clear, however, that if Virginia does enter the arrangement, it will be done by legislative action, not by executive fiat.

The only governor offering a full-throated endorsement of the TCI thus far has been Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker. Governor Baker has come under fire for his position, as most governors and elected officials in the states considering entering the TCI have continued to separate themselves from the proposal.

While Maine Governor Janet Mills has signaled caution towards the TCI, her obnoxious clean energy agenda – including a blunder of a solar panel project at the Blaine House – means Mainers cannot be confident at this time that she will not force Maine into the agreement.

It’s also possible that, given the ongoing work of the Blue Ribbon Commission studying long-term solutions ot Maine’s $232 million annual transportation funding shortfall, Governor Mills uses the TCI for leverage to get a smaller gas tax increase that would actually produce revenues that go towards fixing Maine’s crumbling infrastructure.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at Maine Policy Institute and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at Maine Policy. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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