Maine loggers, along with the rest of our neighbors, face growing challenges as COVID-19 progresses. A short and warm winter has limited harvesting and rising costs limit profitability. That said, it’s becoming increasingly clear just how important loggers are to fulfilling the daily needs of Mainers and our other fellow Americans. So, it is with deep concern that loggers view a piece of legislation passed in the cover of darkness on March 17 at the Maine Legislature, which was just signed into law by Gov. Mills on March 19, that will increase costs to the industry at such a precarious time.

On a day billed as strictly focused on the coronavirus and the supplemental budget, where no one from the public could attend, the Legislature quickly and quietly passed L.D. 1698, An Act To Create Jobs and Slow Climate Change by Promoting the Production of Natural Resources Bioproducts. No wonder the public distrusts politicians when they pull stunts like this.

L.D. 1698 was a bill that loggers supported in 2019 because it would have helped them. Passed unanimously by both houses of the Legislature last June, the governor asked that the bill be amended because of concerns over the incentives it provided. On Jan. 14, 2020, the bill was recalled and put on the unfinished business calendar in the House, where it would sit for two months.

Then, on March 10, without any notice to stakeholders, the bill was amended on the floor turning a good bill into a bad one.

Originally, L.D. 1698 proposed a tax credit for renewable fuel and chemicals manufacturing through the use of responsibly harvested wood from Maine, including incentives to use certified loggers. This was vital to the Taxation Committee so that manufacturers receiving a tax break would be accountable to ensure that timber was harvested responsibly.

That was thrown out the window when the amendment removed accountability metrics and added a significant new cost and reporting requirement for loggers while the manufacturers would receive the benefit. To qualify for the credit, a manufacturer would have to show that the logger providing the fiber could demonstrate that they are paying unemployment taxes for at least 75% of their employees. This sounds easy, but the devil is in the details.

While the exact reasons for this amendment remain unclear, loggers never asked for this change, nor were they included in the revision process. Adding insult to injury, loggers already comply with Maine’s Employment Security law, but L.D. 1698 will now add an unnecessary financial burden to every logging contractor in Maine.

Some may need to pay additional tax, but all will be required to share confidential employee information with those outside state government and will not be compensated for any of their time and effort. Meanwhile, a manufacturer will receive a subsidy on the backs of loggers with no benefit back to the logging company or their employees. This is not fair and has the potential to harm almost every family-based logging business in Maine.

Maine loggers have had no opportunity to comment on this change, there was no public hearing, and what makes this even worse, it was passed by the Legislature when no one was looking, on a day that was supposed to be about the impacts of the coronavirus.

Unless the governor recalls this poison pill or works with us in a future legislative session to correct it, loggers in Maine will be hit with a tax/cost increase while manufacturers will receive the benefit of their sacrifice. Is this fair to Maine’s hard-working logging families?

Fortunately, some lawmakers agreed with us and we thank them for their leadership. Unfortunately, a majority did not and when asked to reconsider, one stated, “I’m passing this bill no matter what.” Evidently, the voices of small family-based businesses don’t matter because legislators know what’s best.

Loggers are not opposed to the original motivation for this bill and we agree with the governor that a single tax credit is perfectly fine to help grow manufacturing in Maine. But it cannot do more harm than good in the long run.

At this point in time, there’s very little we can do because we weren’t given a chance to speak up on behalf of those who can’t. But we sure hope the governor agrees with us in the end and corrects this policy so it won’t help one at the expense of the other. The Legislature did not want to listen, so we hope that she will.

Dana Doran is executive director of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine.

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