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Lawmakers Reject Proposal to Eliminate Pet Food Surcharge

Gov. Paul LePage wants to eliminate a $20 per product, per year surcharge on pet food sold in Maine, which is used mostly to fund cat neutering programs. But the members of a legislative panel, including some Republican lawmakers, have rejected the idea and voted to dedicate more money to the neutering program.

Years ago, Maine implemented two fees on pet food manufacturers that sell products in Maine. Each product was assessed an $80 registration fee as well as a $20 surcharge.

At first there were about 7,000 separate products, or SKUs, but that has grown to more than 10,000, and LePage wants to do away with the surcharge.

“This surcharge is a perfect example of the government overtaxing businesses. Approximately 10,000 SKUs are sold in Maine and each of those products is assessed an $80 registration fee and a $20 surcharge,” says Lance Libby, a senior policy advisor to the governor.

The only support for the bill at the public hearing before the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee was from the pet food industry.

“Maine is one of only three states that imposes that fee. Combined, the $80 and $20 — $100 per product — fee is among the highest in the nation. New Mexico, for example, only imposes a $2 fee,” says the Pet Food Institute’s state lobbyist, Chris Jackson.

Opponents filed dozens of statements criticizing the proposal. Many pet owners say the cat neutering program should be expanded, not flat-funded at a $100,000 a year. Several argued that Maine is a state that loves pets — it has the second highest per capita number of households with a cat, and the fifth highest for dog ownership.

Sharon Secovich from Spay Maine says that given the increasing number of feral cats, more money is needed for the program.

“In the last five years U.S. pet food sales have increased by 40 percent; in Maine it has increased by 35 percent. However, the fee has remained at $20 and I thank we should raise the fee,” she says.

Secovich says an estimated $116 million of pet food was sold in Maine last year. She says the fee adds about 55 cents per pet-owning household, per year, to the pet food bill. She and others believe that Maine pet owners are willing to pay for that small amount to help support the cat neutering program.

Brunswick veterinarian Anne Del Borgo says there’s a real public health benefit to reducing the number of feral cats in Maine.

“They’re probably the No. 1 way that rabies communicates between wildlife and humans, so it’s extremely important that we continue to try and get that under control,” she says.

Thursday evening the committee unanimously voted to keep the registration fee and the surcharge intact, but put in language that would direct any excess revenue the surcharge generates go to the cat neutering program. Based on the last few years, that could be $40,000 or more.