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Jason J. Levesque is the mayor of Auburn.
Over the past year, there have been numerous instances of top-down solutions being offered — by lawmakers in Washington, D.C. and Augusta alike — to address urgent, unprecedented problems. The COVID-19 pandemic and the devastation it brought are chief among them. It was a challenge that needed the full support and resources from our largest governmental institutions.
Unfortunately, this top-down approach has far too often become the norm, and it’s happening right now in Augusta. Once again, Maine lawmakers are seeking to override local governments and this time they would implement mandatory 5-percent franchise fees for cable and video programming services.
As the mayor of the City of Auburn, it’s a privilege to represent our 23,000 residents. Auburn is a unique place, just like every other Maine city or town, and those who know what is best for our community are those who live, work or retire here. That’s why it’s discouraging to see some state legislators pushing LD 920, a bill that would remove our local autonomy.
Currently, cities and towns are free to decide whether or not to implement local franchise fees for cable services. Here in Auburn, ours is set at 2.5 percent and affects approximately 9,000 cable customers. This fee collected is used to fund our local cable access channels, which air all public meetings held by the city and provide local information to our residents. However, many localities in Maine choose not to assess any fee whatsoever, but LD 920 would override that choice.
As a result, LD 920 would increase Mainers’ monthly cable bills. Customers in Auburn would see a collective annual increase of $213,800 from our franchise fee being doubled. Those who live in cities and towns that don’t assess any fees would see an even greater jump in costs.
This is not a responsible way to govern. Our state’s leaders should be focusing on solutions that will lessen financial burdens, not add to them. Many Mainers remain out of work and cut off from the sources of income they had prior to the pandemic. Our state’s seniors living on fixed incomes not only need every penny for food and medication, but they also rely heavily on cable TV to track important news. Any increase to the bottom line of these residents’ monthly bills will be felt intensely.
This issue is black and white. Either cities and towns can remain free to decide what is best for their residents or the state government can eliminate local control with franchise fee mandates that will cost Mainers more money.
LD 920 would undermine my ability as mayor of Auburn to collaborate with my constituents on deciding the appropriate franchise fee level. And it would handcuff every other mayor, local representative and citizen who enjoys the freedom to have a say in the policies that directly affect them.
I know my community inside and out. The 182 state legislators who represent districts outside of Auburn do not. They’re not equipped in the way we are to make on-the-ground decisions that impact our residents’ ability to access information or the size of their monthly bills. Implementing mandatory, top-down solutions on issues like local franchise fees for cable services is incredibly misguided in our current political and economic environment, which is why LD 920 must not become law.