Gov. Mills doesn't support suspending state gas tax

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·6 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Jun. 23—Gov. Janet Mills doesn't support suspending the state gas tax in the wake of President Biden's call for Congress to temporarily do so for the federal gas tax, saying that taking that step in Maine would require legislative approval.

Lindsey Crete, Mills' spokesperson, said the governor was willing to consider a temporary suspension of the state gas tax earlier this year, but the proposal did not advance in the Legislature.

"Instead, the Legislature coalesced around Governor Mills' proposal to send more than half of the state's surplus back to Maine people in the form of $850 relief checks as a better way to help people across the states," Crete said in a statement issued to the Press Herald. "Delivering relief in this way also provides Maine people with the freedom to spend that money in the manner they believe is best for them, whether that be on groceries, gas or other items."

Biden called on Congress Wednesday to provide a federal gas tax holiday that would remain in effect for three months. The president also urged individual states to suspend their gas tax or provide some other similar form of relief to Americans, who have been battered by the high costs of gasoline and food.

Biden says he knows the move wouldn't reduce "all the pain but it will be a big help." If the gas tax savings — 18.4 cents-a-gallon on gas and 24.4 cents-a-gallon on diesel — were fully passed along to consumers, people would save roughly 3.6 percent at the pump under the current nationwide average price or $5 a gallon. It is widely viewed as an election year move to ease financial pressures.

Maine Republicans said the governor should do more to provide relief to Mainers struggling to pay for gas.

Rep. Laurel Libby, an Auburn Republican, on Wednesday called on Mills to convene a special session of the Legislature for the purpose of suspending Maine's gas tax. Libby said a suspension of the state gas tax would save Maine consumers about 30 cents per gallon. It was Libby who proposed "An Act to Suspend Maine's Gas Tax," in March. The suspension would have remained in effect through 2022, but did not make it through the Legislature.

"Maine citizens need relief from high gas prices," Libby said in a statement Wednesday. "It is now June and the president of the United States is calling for a suspension of federal and state taxes to give relief to people and families that are hurting. To those offering excuses for not acting, I say, 'if there is a will, there is a way."

"I urge Governor Mills to call the Legislature back into session for the single purpose of suspending Maine's gas tax," Libby said.

Jason Savage, the Maine Republican Party's executive director, said that Libby was speaking independently and not for the Maine GOP.

"Her voice is important here. She saw the need and spoke up with a proposal before most acknowledged it was such a problem and Democrats were very much ignoring it," Savage said in an email.

It was not clear whether Maine's legislative leaders would call legislators back into a special session to vote on suspending the state's gas tax. House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, did not respond to an email Wednesday night asking if he would support convening a special session of the Legislature. Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said he had numerous events Wednesday night and did not have time to express his views on suspending the state gas tax and convening a special session.

Crete said Mills has no objection to Congress temporarily suspending the federal gas tax, so long as Congress ensures that Maine's federal match for transportation and infrastructure projects is fully met and that Maine's infrastructure work is not jeopardized.

The Maine Department of Transportation issued a statement Wednesday night that said for the average Maine driver — someone who drives 15,000 miles per year and gets about 25 miles per gallon — suspending the state gas tax for three months would save the driver about $45. Suspending the federal gas tax for three months would save the average Maine driver another $28.

The state's Highway Fund receives about $230 million a year from the state fuel tax and is the primary revenue source for the MDOT to pave roads, plow roads, fill potholes, and undertake bridge and other maintenance repairs.

"Eliminating this revenue for three months would remove an estimated $57.5 million from the Highway Fund, which would translate to approximate losses of $44.3 million for MaineDOT," spokesman Paul Merrill said. In addition, communities across Maine would receive $3.6 million less in local road assistance. Gas tax revenues are also distributed to the Secretary of State's Office ($7.5 million) and to the Department of Public Safety ($5.8 million).

It's also not clear whether Biden has the support in Congress to enact a gas tax holiday. Many lawmakers, including some in his own party, have expressed reservations about suspending the gas tax. Even many economists view the idea of a gas tax holiday with skepticism.

Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, praised the president for focusing on the rising prices at the pump, but said it would be nice to see the same sense of urgency shown by oil companies that he said have put profits ahead of production.

"At the same time, I worry that this temporary holiday won't make a significant impact at the pump while harming our nation's abilities to maintain roads and bridges," King said in a statement.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine described the president's solution as a gimmick that will not meaningfully lower gas and oil prices. Collins said the president should be working with American energy producers on increasing oil and gas production at home.

"President Biden's proposed solution to suspend the gas tax, which helps pay for safe roads, sound bridges and highway improvements, would only lower gas prices by about 3 or 4 cents, according to some estimates," Collins said in a statement. "The timing of the proposal is also questionable, given that the administration is specifically targeting the three months just before the midterm elections."

"Every Mainer is feeling pain at the pump," Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine, D-1st District, said in a statement. "In a rural state like ours, we need to drive long distances to go about our daily lives."

Pingree said she is concerned that the president's gas tax holiday doesn't go far enough "to deliver relief and address the root cause of high gas prices: price gouging by Big Oil. Last month, when House Republicans fought to protest fossil fuel profits, I joined House Democrats in passing legislation to curb oil company greed."

A spokesman for Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, D-2nd District, said the congressman was tied up in an Armed Services Committee meeting and would be unable to react to the president's proposal.

This report contains material from The Associated Press.