Lawmaker Says Tax Dollars Should Not Be Spent On “Luxuries” Like Bottled Water
Could the state government save money by not spending tax dollars on bottled water? One lawmaker says yes and he’s proposed legislation that would outlaw the practice.Representative Brian Jones of Freedom told a legislative panel that bottled water is a luxury item and, if lawmakers want water, they can fill pitchers from the tap. It’s part of a proposal he unveiled Monday that would prohibit the state and other public agencies from purchasing bottled water with tax dollars. “There’s a concern over environmental impact, the plastics and water extraction,” Jones said. “There’s a perception that somehow our municipal drinking water supplies are not safe, which they are.”But Jones’ main reason for proposing this bill is financial, saying the perception is that while those in state government say funds are limited, their bottled water is paid for by taxpayers. “I don’t know how much we’re gonna save. Even if it’s only a few tens of thousands of dollars, that makes it a worthwhile thing to pursue. Especially when some of our citizens at home are choosing between medication and food.”One state agency that would feel the impact of this bill is the Maine Department of Transportation. When a similar amendment was proposed four years ago, the Maine DOT was the only state agency that included a line in their budget for bottled water. Back then DOT reportedly spent roughly $73,000 on bottled water. Nina Fischer, who serves as a Legislative Liason and works in Constituent Services at Maine DOT, says federal regulations require them to provide portable drinking water to workers who don’t have access to it. Fischer, who testified in opposition to the bill, claims if if this bill passes, it could wind up costing the state in the long run. “We would have federal fines we would have to contend with,” Fischer said. “The Clean Water Act, OSHA standards. So it would be a substantial cost to the state from the Department of Transportation standpoint if we’re required to comply with this law.” The Maine Department of Environmental Protection said they too need to use bottled water. A spokesperson from the Maine DEP said they sometimes provide bottled water to people in the event of a contaminated well.Jones said in cases like the Maine DOT and DEP, as well as municipal firefighters, provisions can be put in the bill. He told the Committee on State and Local Government he’s not opposed to making changes in the bill’s language to accommodate unforeseen circumstances. Representatives from Maine’s bottled water industry are outraged at the idea, pointing out to lawmakers they’re responsible for more than 1200 jobs. “The bottled water industry provides $825 million plus in economic activity in Maine. In addition to that, the industry pays about $43 million in tax revenue. Nothing about that is irrelevant,” said Dan Felton, of the International Bottled Water Association.A work session on the bill is scheduled for next week where lawmakers hope to find out exactly how much money the proposal would save the state and how well similar laws have worked in states like Vermont, some municipalities in New York and California.