Gov. Janet Mills made the right choice in vetoing LD 920, sponsored by Rep. Christopher Kessler (D-South Portland), a bill that would have raised consumer prices on cable subscribers in Maine and strip away local autonomy across the state.
The Maine House voted 78-66 on Wednesday to sustain the governor’s veto.
The veto came late last week and cited a few primary reasons for the governor’s objection.
First, Mills attacked new consumer fees that would come with streaming services as a result of LD 920. The bill would force video streaming providers to foot some of the costs of technology upgrades and expansion of local public access networks, thus likely passing the costs onto consumers.
In her veto memo, Mills refers to such networks as Public, Educational, and Governmental (PEG) studios. The costs of their expansion would essentially act as an additional tax levied on something people use to have fun and relax.
Additionally, LD 920 would grant oversight of streaming websites to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and require those services to offset the costs associated with such oversight through a fee. Not only would this pass additional costs onto consumers, but it would create another layer of regulation on video service providers.
As a result, the bill would increase costs on consumers while potentially limiting service options to Mainers.
Granting the PUC the authority to regulate streaming services, and not leaving it to Maine’s localities, would be a grave misstep of government overreach and rescind the independence of communities.
Mills dubbed the issue both “a local control issue and a consumer cost issue.” Indeed, LD 920 is equally bad on both fronts.
As outlined in his op-ed for the Bangor Daily News, Auburn Mayor Jason J. Levesque explained how the bill would have stripped away the ability of his community, and communities across Maine, to choose the most cost-effective strategy for funding local cable networks.
The bill prescribes a local franchise fee for cable subscriptions and video streaming services of 5% across the state of Maine.
He points out, though, that many communities in Maine don’t even assess fees for such services. His city of 23,000 residents has a 2.5% fee for funding their local cable access channels, for things like city government meetings and dispersing local information, but the bill would have doubled that fee.
LD 920 would override his locality, and many others across Maine, from even having the ability to choose how to, or whether to at all, assess fees on consumers of cable networks and streaming services.
Levesque said that Auburn customers would see a collective annual increase of $213,800 in cable bills. That total would be even higher for localities that don’t assess fees as of yet.
A top-down, one-size-fits-all solution is not the correct approach. By consulting with their elected officials and constituents, local communities can and need to set their fees and taxes as they see fit. A heavy-handed, statewide mandate would be a massive mistake.
Mills made the right choice in nixing LD 920, as did the lawmakers who helped sustain her veto.