Maine truckers consider protesting at state capitol about fuel prices

| 12/19/2007

Logging truckers in Maine have been trying to get the governor to give them 90 days of relief from the state fuel tax to ease problems caused by high diesel prices. They say they may stage a protest at the state capitol next month.

OOIDA member Larry Sidelinger, who heads a group called the Coalition for Lower Fuel Prices, said the state has an emergency fund that could make up for the temporary loss of the diesel tax. But he said the governor is dragging his heels.

Meanwhile, coalition members met in Skowhegan on Saturday, Dec. 15, and Sidelinger said the message from truckers was grim.

“We had many truckers, 100 to 125 drivers were there,” Sidelinger told “Land Line Now” earlier this week. “We were basically back on the war path about the price of fuel and what it’s doing to the trucking industry here in New England and Maine and in the country.”

Besides truckers, Sidelinger said several state lawmakers attended the meeting, including U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, D-ME.

“We had many truckers stand up. It’s now gone to the point where local construction companies (are joining in),” Sidelinger said. “One man had a dozen dump trucks – he’s parked them all and has laid off 16 employees.

“Another fellow had a septic system company with three trucks. He’s parked all but one and is driving it himself. So we are starting to see the trickle-down of smaller businesses that are not necessarily long-haul truckers joining in the coalition and joining in the momentum.”

Sidelinger said he recently met with John M. Kerry, director of the state’s Office of Energy Independence and Security, and other Maine officials about the dire situation and asked whether Gov. John Baldacci’s “Rainy Day Fund” could help provide relief to truckers in the state.

“We basically said we’ve heard from our legislators and the people that the governor has a $120-odd million dollar rainy day fund that we could tap into to get some relief here at the pump on our fuel taxes,” he said. “They both looked at us and said ‘well, we’re not sure exactly what that figure is.’ ”

Sidelinger said a representative from the governor’s office left that meeting and called someone in the governor’s office to inquire about the so-called rainy day fund and was told there was nothing in it.

Sidelinger said he was told that the governor was very concerned that there’s no money to fall back on because the state of Maine is facing a $95 million dollar shortfall.

“We took that they were being aboveboard and evenhanded with us,” he said.

However, the next day, Sidelinger said he found out the governor had announced he had $117 million dollars available to help with the Energy and Low-Income Heating Assistance programs in Maine. The governor said the money was to come from the state’s Budget Stabilization Fund, formerly known as the Rainy Day Fund, the same fund Sidelinger referred to in his meeting with officials from the governor’s office.

Sidelinger said he isn’t giving up and is hoping his lawmakers step in and develop legislation to aid truck drivers in the state.

“People told me about 35 days ago that I was wasting my time, but you know what, I don’t think we’re wasting our time when the governor of the state of Maine sits down with a bunch of truck drivers and talks to us and (a member of) the U.S. Senate sits down with us and listens to us. That’s a big step.”

Staff writers Reed Black and Clarissa Kell-Holland contributed to this report.