AUGUSTA — The House and Senate have passed a bill that would increase the registration fee for snowmobiles and use the extra money to help maintain snowmobile trails.
The bill faces further votes, and even if it does pass, there is a good chance it will be vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage, who generally opposes fee increases.
L.D. 1263, sponsored by Rep. Stephen Stanley, D-Medway, would increase the annual registration fee from $40 to $45 for Maine residents and from $88 to $110 for nonresidents.
Nonresidents can purchase a three-day registration. That fee would increase from $43 to $50, under the bill.
Currently, $7 from each resident’s fee goes to the Snowmobile Trail Fund, which is managed by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. The additional $5 from each registration would go into that fund as well.
The increased fees are projected to generate an additional $487,000 in the next fiscal year and an additional $638,000 in 2014-15.
The bill passed 97-40 in the House late Monday. All Democrats who were present voted for the measure and 13 Republicans joined them.
The Senate passed the bill 22-13 on Tuesday, with support from all Democrats and from Republicans Patrick Flood of Winthrop and Gary Plummer of Windham.
Neither vote reached the two-thirds majority necessary to override a veto: 101 votes in the House, 24 votes in the Senate.
The Snowmobile Trail Fund’s revenue comes from two sources: registration fees and a small portion of the state’s fuel tax.
Sen. David Dutremble, D-Biddeford, who spoke in favor of L.D. 1263 on Wednesday, said even with those sources, the fund covers only about 60 percent of the cost of grooming and maintaining snowmobile trails.
“This bill is about jobs,” Dutremble said. “Snowmobiling is a $400 million industry, mostly for our rural areas.”
Dutremble said he has gotten calls from dozens of snowmobile clubs asking him to support the measure. Many of those clubs are doing a good deal of trail maintenance themselves, on a volunteer basis.
Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton, said there always are opportunities to raise fees but he’s not convinced the Snowmobile Trail Fund is being used properly or efficiently.
“I would ask the department to look at its finances before we pass fees on to residents,” he said.
The bill, as drafted, sought to increase the fee for residents from $40 to $60. It was amended before it passed through committee.
The original bill also would have created tax exemptions on some equipment related to snowmobile maintenance, but those were stripped.
Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, who represents many towns in Aroostook County, where snowmobiling is important to the economy, said he doesn’t like the idea of raising fees.
“But the simple fact is, snowmobiling clubs are going out of business,” he said.
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: