LePage targets hybrid, electric cars in ‘free ride’ gas tax discussion

Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage targeted ways to ensure drivers of electric cars are contributing their fair share to the cost of maintaining roads on Tuesday.

LePage’s comments came during his weekly radio appearance on WVOM amid a discussion about a trip to Boston the governor has scheduled next week on the expansion of electric car charging stations.

The bulk of road maintenance costs for state and federal highways comes from the gas tax. The federal gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon; Maine charges an additional 30 cents a gallon, which ranks the state roughly in the middle of the pack nationally.

Electric cars and hybrids — which use a mix of gasoline and battery power — don’t pay as much gas tax as drivers of traditional cars because they don’t burn as much gas. Numerous states are grappling with the problem.

“Hybrids are getting a free ride on our roads,” LePage said. “The Legislature is going to have to address: ‘How do they share in paying for our roads?'”

The governor did not offer a concrete proposal, but he said an increase in the sales tax on automobiles or an increase in excise taxes could be solutions.

During the 2014 Maine Transportation Conference, LePage said he opposed raising the state gas tax, but would be open to raising the federal tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1993. Maine has a significant maintenance backlog for roads and bridges and lawmakers here and elsewhere have been struggling with how to fund those projects in an era of more fuel-efficient cars and declining gas tax revenues.

LePage also raised a related issue that he has long discussed: Whether municipalities are using all of their excise tax revenues to fix local roads. Excise taxes are paid in your annual vehicle registration. Maine towns and cities bring in some $200 million or more annually in excise taxes.

LePage said he suspects larger service center communities are using the money elsewhere — which he said is what happened when he was mayor of Waterville before becoming governor.

“The excise tax was intended for roads,” he said. “They’re not spending nearly what they get in for our local roads.”

Augusta lawmakers have debated numerous solutions in recent years, including increasing the state gas tax and funding some road and bridge maintenance with bonds, but have not yet settled on a remedy. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • The Maine Democratic Party named Katie Mae Simpson its new executive director on Sunday. She’s a longtime party operative who ran Emerge Maine, a program that trains Democratic women to run for office, for four years before managing Shenna Bellows’ unsuccessful run against U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in 2014. Simpson replaces Jeremy Kennedy, who left his job with the party in June for a position in Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
  • U.S. Sen. Angus King is in Greenland this week on a fact-finding mission around climate change. The independent’s three-day trip is focused on environmental and security consequences of climate change’s impact on the Arctic. On Monday, he went to the Jacobshavn Glacier, which is one of the world’s fastest-melting glaciers, is blamed for the iceberg that sunk the Titanic was made more famous by the 2013 documentary “Chasing Ice,” which captured the longest calving event on record. King will be briefed by experts and tour an iceberg on Tuesday.
  • Evangelist Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham and head of the humanitarian group Samaritan’s Purse, will be in Capitol Park in front of the Maine State House today. It’s part of his 50-state prayer rally tour aimed at challenging Christians to “live out their faith at home, in public and at the ballot box.” Graham hasn’t endorsed a 2016 presidential candidate, but he met with Republican Donald Trump, in flood-ravaged Louisiana over the weekend. The Augusta rally starts at noon.
  • House Speaker Mark Eves’ senior listening tour will go to Damariscotta on Tuesday. The North Berwick Democrat will be at the Spectrum Generations Coastal Community Center from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the fourth stop of what has been billed as a 10-stop tour.
  • A progressive group released its first ad against U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin on Tuesday. The spot from End Citizens United is part of the group’s $200,000 ad buy to boost Poliquin’s Democratic opponent, Emily Cain. It hits the Republican for his support of his party’s budget proposal in 2015 and calls him a “Wall Street banker.” Other ads have used that attack line against him, but his background is in investment management, which is different. — Michael Shepherd

Correction: This is End Citizens United’s first 2016 ad in Maine, not the second. An earlier version was incorrect.

Reading list

Best of Maine’s Craigslist

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.