Kasie Kolbe

Policymakers in Augusta should not be passing any legislation that increases Mainers’ monthly bills, while communities like Lisbon continue to deal with the economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. But that is exactly what legislation pending before the Maine Legislature would do by implementing a statewide cable tax.

LD 920 implements a 5% mandatory tax on cable service via local franchise fees. There are currently 110 municipalities in Maine that do not assess this type of franchise fee at all, while 109 others assess them at less than 5%. In other words, the cable tax established by this legislation would increase monthly bills for cable customers in more than 200 Maine communities, including my hometown of Lisbon.

The Town Council thus far has chosen not to implement the franchise fee. If LD 920 were to pass, Lisbon cable service users would see an increase in their cable bill.

This cable tax would have a disproportionate impact on small, rural communities and our most vulnerable populations, like seniors, who often live on a fixed income. Many of our seniors rely on video programming services for their news, weather, entertainment — some even for their religious services. They should not be hit with an estimated increase of $5 or more per month that will come out of their budget for groceries, medications or other necessities.

The proposed cable tax would also hit those who are out-of-work as a result of the pandemic. A recent study from the Maine Department of Labor found only around half of the 104,000 jobs Maine lost in the past year have been recovered. At the same time, mortgages, rent and bills must still be paid. Our elected state leaders should be focused on helping small businesses and communities recover from the pandemic to bring more of these jobs back — not eyeing new taxes that will increase Mainers’ bills.

As a town councilor in Lisbon, I am also particularly concerned about how LD 920 undermines local control and shifts costs to cities and towns.  This is especially true for small towns in rural Maine that have a long and proud tradition of community involvement and decision making in local government.

In addition, this bill would also be likely to negatively impact the state budget in the form of unnecessary and avoidable legal costs.

Portions of the legislation are already preempted by federal law, meaning legal challenges will undoubtedly arise. That will further siphon resources out of state coffers while the pandemic is already straining budgets. The state has already lost two court cases that were challenged under similar arguments of federal preemption — which only increases the likelihood of legal challenges to LD 920 if this bill is passed.

A statewide cable tax that increases monthly bills, undermines local decision making and costs Maine taxpayers is a bad idea, and bad policy aimed at addressing a problem that does not exist.

State legislators should abandon the LD 920 cable tax and instead focus on solutions that will get Mainers back to work and keep more money in their pockets.

Kasie Kolbe is a member of the Lisbon Town Council.

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