Inside Augusta

Disagreement between Speaker Fecteau, Senate President Jackson prevents hearing on gas tax suspension

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A disagreement between the presiding officers of the Maine Legislature––House Speaker Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford) and Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook)––resulted in the denial of an after deadline bill request from Rep. Laurel Libby to suspend the gas tax through the remainder of 2022. Senate President Jackson voted to allow Rep. Libby’s bill to be circulated among the other members of the Legislative Council while Speaker Fecteau voted against it.

Without both presiding officers in agreement, Libby’s bill cannot be circulated to the other members of the council for their consideration on whether it should receive a hearing by a legislative committee, and eventually the full legislature.

On March 6, Libby made public her after deadline bill request which called for suspending the state’s 30 cent per gallon tax on gasoline through the remainder of 2022 in response to growing gas prices at the pump. On March 22, she began the process to circulate a ballot among the 10 members of Maine’s Legislative Council by submitting a request to the Revisor’s Office. From there, a ballot is drafted and the presiding officers may decide whether to allow the ballot to be circulated among the rest of the members who comprise the Legislative Council, which includes majority and minority leadership in both chambers of the legislature.

According to Libby, she was notified on March 23 by Suzanne Gresser, the executive director of the Maine Legislature, that the presiding officers had denied the request to circulate the ballot. She received additional confirmation from Gresser on March 25 that Jackson voted to approve circulation while Fecteau voted against it. The next meeting of the Legislative Council, scheduled for Thursday, March 24, was also cancelled. Without a meeting of the council or approval to circulate a ballot, Libby’s bill cannot be admitted into the second session for consideration.

“This is why the public hates politics, political games, and the lack of transparency in Augusta,” Libby said. “Because of Democrat leaders, the most important issue facing Maine citizens right now, high gasoline prices, will not be addressed.

“On behalf of the tens of thousands of Mainers struggling to pay for gasoline and keep up with the rapidly increasing costs of living, I am deeply disappointed that my bill will not even be considered, or the voices of the public heard. With state government taking in excess of $1.2 billion more than budgeted from Maine taxpayers, the idea of suspending Maine’s gas tax in 2022 deserves a public hearing and legislative consideration. Too many families are struggling to make ends meet while the government gets bigger and bigger,” Libby added.

Rep. John Andrews (R-Paris) also submitted a request to the Revisor’s Office to circulate a resolution calling on Maine’s congressional delegation to urge President Joe Biden’s administration to increase domestic oil production and support policies that make America energy independent. On Thursday, Andrews also received confirmation from Gresser that the presiding officers had declined to circulate his request among the other members of the council. It is unclear if one or both of Maine’s presiding officers voted in opposition to allowing Rep. Andrews’ resolution to be circulated to the other council members.

“It is a shame that the Legislative Council didn’t support that idea and killed my resolution without a recorded vote. They missed an opportunity to support a necessary resolution that would have urged the Biden administration to open up and streamline the processes for domestic energy production,” Rep. Andrews said.

Despite preventing the circulation of bills related to one of the most pressing issues Mainers face today––rising energy costs––the presiding officers did agree to allow the recent circulation of a bill sponsored by Rep. Michelle Dunphy (D-Old Town) that would allow outdoor stadiums to serve spirits in addition to wine and malt liquor, which was released for public consumption on Tuesday.

Correction: The original version of this article stated both presiding officers of the Maine Legislature voted against circulating Rep. Libby’s after deadline bill request.

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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