AUGUSTA, Maine — Democrats and Republicans in the Maine Legislature have a deal to raise vehicle inspection fees by up to 60 percent to fund an electronic inspection system that is favored by the state police.
Maine is among 15 states that require state inspections, according to the conservative Maine Policy Institute. But it is the last state in New England and just one of three across the country to rely on a system that requires the Maine State Police to track more than 1 million stickers per year on paper rather than with an electronic system.
The state police worked out a similar deal with lawmakers last year that would have funded such a system by doubling fees, but Gov. Janet Mills issued a late veto threat that stopped it. This year’s measure would set a maximum inspection fee of $20, up from $12.50 now in all counties but Cumberland, where inspections and a required emissions test cost $18.50.
Rep. Bruce White, D-Waterville, the sponsor of this year’s measure, said he is confident that the bill has changed enough to become law. It does not specify a deadline for when the electronic program should be running throughout the state. The program is now overseen by the state police, including more than 2,600 inspection stations and 8,000 technicians.
The initial bill said state police would not require the use of the electronic program, which drew concern from the Mills administration. All members of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, except for Sen. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, supported the measure, clearing it for likely floor votes sometime this month with the Legislature trying to wind down its work.
While Mills’ did not respond to a request for comment on this year’s bill, her administration has signaled support for it in testimony from state police and the Department of Environmental Protection.
Lt. Bruce Scott of the Maine State Police’s Traffic Safety Unit, testified an electronic system would help simplify work for inspectors, reduce fraud and save about $100,000 a year in postage costs if the roughly 1.3 million vehicle inspection stickers sold each year in Maine and other forms are not mailed.
Among the few opponents of the measure is the Maine Policy Institute, whose spokesperson, Jacob Posik, cited privacy concerns and higher fees that would hurt Mainers already struggling to make ends meet.
“State government has never been more flush with cash,” Posik said, noting the continuing surpluses f ueled by federal pandemic aid that have bailed out state budgets.
Transportation became a sore subject between lawmakers this week, when legislative Republicans challenged majority Democrats to find up to $400 million in additional annual funding for the state’s long-embattled road and bridge system.
But one of the Republicans on the panel overseeing the subject said the inspection change was non-controversial, speculating that Mills only opposed the last attempt because “it was an election year.”
“We’re on board,” Sen. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock, said.