The Maine State House was shut down for the week, forcing the canceling of Thursday’s legislative session.
The building was evacuated Monday when pipes burst, flooding the first floor and the tunnel to the Cross Office Building.
Workers have been repairing the damage and using massive fans and ventilation ducts to dry out the space. The building is expected to reopen next week. In the meantime, legislative committees are continuing to meet remotely. The full Legislature will convene twice next week, on Tuesday and Thursday.
Energy issues have jumped to the top of the agenda in Augusta as the governor, legislators and political candidates scramble to find ways to help Mainers cope with skyrocketing costs for gas, heating oil and electricity.
The emerging proposals range from suspending Maine’s gas tax to hefty rebates for electricity customers. But they are all short-term, nibble-around-the-edges solutions because there’s only so much that state or federal policymakers can do about oil and natural gas prices set on the global market.
One idea that garnered a lot of media attention is reducing the gas tax. Former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who is challenging Democratic Gov. Janet Mills this year, said the state should cut that 30-cents-per-gallon tax in half until summer tourists start flocking to the state. A three-month reduction would translate into a $22 savings for the “average” Mainer who drives about 15,000 a year in a vehicle that gets 25 mpg. It would also result in a $30 million cut in revenue for road and bridge maintenance, plowing, filling potholes, etc.
Maine’s gas tax hasn’t changed since 2011, which is when LePage and Republican lawmakers eliminated the automatic “indexing” that pegged the tax to inflation. Mills, meanwhile, has proposed sending $750 checks to 800,000-plus Mainers using anticipated surplus revenue
Other Energy Proposals:
Heating oil prices jumped 87 cents in one week to an average $4.73 a gallon statewide on March 7, according to state data. In response, MaineHousing announced this week that the maximum benefit available to a household in an immediate “energy crisis” would rise from $600 to $1,400.
Lawmakers are also considering several emergency bills to streamline the application process for eligible Mainers to receive assistance through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) including the addition of online applications
CANADIAN PACIFIC POTENTIAL STRIKE…
The State of Maine will be affected if the pending Canadian Pacific strike takes place causing a shortage of propane gas caused by the effects of a labor dispute in Canada that has limited propane gas delivery via rail into the region. MEMA has been working with the Governor’s Office over the course of the past couple weeks and have been able to secure an hours of service waiver for propane delivery crews that will need to work continuously to transport as widely as possibly until this market contristriction is resolved. If the pending strike takes place, the waiver will start on Monday, March 21, 2022.
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