Water is our most important shared resource. We all need it — to drink, to wash, to cleanse, to cure. When someone is profiting from this common resource, those benefits should be shared with all of us.
Here in Maine, we have just about the best water you can find, which makes it especially valuable. People all over the world desire our water, and those who bottle and sell it enjoy huge financial gains. A portion of those gains should be going back to the state and to all the people who reside here.
It makes sense that when the state produces a profitable resource, that the state should get some of that profit back. Water isn’t a free resource to begin with. Everyone pays a water bill for what they use at home. So why shouldn’t companies do the same?
While corporations do pay the municipalities a rate of a little over half a penny per gallon for the water they extract, only select towns appreciate the financial gain. How do these payments of pennies on a gallon benefit the entire state of Maine?
Imposing fees on our natural resources is not a new idea, nor would Maine be the first to put a modest fee on a resource that belongs to all of us. Currently Maine imposes an excise tax on naturally occurring minerals, as the state has recognized these to be precious natural resources. Additionally, Maine imposes a tax on potatoes, another resource rich to our beautiful state. And who doesn’t know Maine for its plentiful, delicious blueberries? Maine imposes a tax on blueberries as well. And finally, Maine has long precedence in taxing a renewable natural resource, that being our timber through the commercial forestry excise tax.
Another example is natural gas. Thirty-four states produce natural gas, and all 34 states have fees or taxes on that production. In Texas there’s a 7.5 percent tax on gas and a 4.6 percent tax on oil. Texas splits up the resulting revenue, putting 37.5 percent in its rainy day fund, 25 percent in a school program fund and the last 37.5 percent into its own highway fund.
Should water, our most precious natural resource, be exempt from these types of fees?
There’s a simple solution to assure Maine is benefiting from the sale of our water: place an excise tax on the extraction of groundwater or surface water for commercial bottling for sale. If we place just a 5-cent-per-gallon tax on water extracted from the ground for the purpose of bottling, the state would receive an extra $60 million each year.
I’ve presented legislation, LD 1074, to do just that, and I have a suggestion about where that money — 5 cents per gallon after a proposed committee amendment — could go: the Highway Fund.
Just a few weeks ago, the Department of Transportation had to cut $59 million from their budget, canceling plans for paving and safety improvements on Interstate 295 and 11 more construction projects. Consider that $60 million from water extraction would create more than 1,500 well-paying jobs, which will go to infrastructure needed to fix our roads and bridges and other highway projects.
There’s a fear when we talk about taxes like this that we’ll push industries away or create too much red tape, but the fact is, this tax would be a modest one that would not put undue financial stress on Maine’s bottlers. The bottlers value the quality of our water and can afford this fee. Taxes like these are not meant to push business away. Bottling businesses are important to a state like Maine. They provide jobs and improve our economy. They’re a part of our community. This tax simply reflects that they’re using our community resource and gives just a bit of that benefit back to Maine.
We are so fortunate to be home to the freshest water in the world. Let’s use that water to give back to the rest of our state.
Lori K. Gramlich, D-Old Orchard Beach, represents District 13 in the Maine House of Representatives.