Maine Residents Will Get Stuck with Even Higher Utility Bills Due to Biden Corporate Tax Rate Hike

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Posted by John Kartch and Michael Mirsky on Thursday, June 3rd, 2021, 1:25 PM PERMALINK

If King enacts a corporate income tax rate increase, he will have to explain why he just increased your utility bills

If President Biden and Senator Angus King hike the corporate income tax rate, Maine households and businesses will get stuck with higher utility bills as the country tries to recover from the pandemic.

Democrats plan to impose a corporate income tax rate increase to 28%, even higher than communist China's 25%. This does not even include state corporate income taxes, which average 4 - 5% nationwide.

Customers bear the cost of corporate income taxes imposed on utility companies. Corporate income tax cuts drive utility rates down, corporate income tax hikes drive utility rates up. 

Electric, gas, and water companies must get their billing rates approved by the respective state utility commissions. When the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act cut the corporate income tax rate from 35% to 21%, utility companies worked with state officials to pass along the tax savings to customers, including at least five Maine utilities.

The savings typically come in the form of a rate reduction, a bill credit, or a reduction to an existing or planned rate increase. 

According to a report published in the trade publication Utility Dive, customers nationwide were to receive a $90 billion utility benefit from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act:

Estimates derived from 2017 annual SEC 10-K filings indicate that the 14-percentage-point reduction in the corporate tax rate enacted under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) resulted in investor-owned utilities establishing significant regulatory liability balances, totaling approximately $90 billion to be refunded back to customers.

Americans for Tax Reform has compiled a 90-second nationwide utility savings video from local news reports which may be viewed here.

If Democrats now impose a corporate income tax rate increase, they will have to reckon with local news coverage noting utility bills are going up. A vote for a corporate income tax hike is a vote for higher utility bills as households try to recover from the pandemic.

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Impact: Working with the Maine Public Utilities Commission, Central Maine Power Company, Emera Maine, Northern Utilities, Maine Natural Gas and Maine Water Company passed along tax savings to their customers.

Central Maine Power Company: As noted in this June 21, 2018, State of Maine Public Utilities Commission Central Maine Power Company Annual Compliance Filing:

CMP will decrease distribution rates by $16,429,187 to reflect distribution revenue requirement savings associated with the Tax Act. The decrease associated with the Tax Act -4- includes the one-time deferral of Tax Act benefits of $5,641,368 associated with the period January 2018 – June 2018.

Emera Maine: As noted in this Maine Public Utilities Commission document:

On October 2, 2017, Emera Maine filed a petition for an increase its distribution rates (Docket 2017-00198). Emera Maine requested a $10 million, or 12%, increase in its overall distribution revenues. In late December 2017, while the Company’s rate request was still pending before the Commission, Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) which became law on January 1, 2018. Among its provisions, the TCJA reduced the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%. The Commission required that Emera Maine update its rate request to reflect the impact of the TCJA on its proposed rates. By Order dated June 28, 2018, the Commission authorized the Company to increase its delivery rates by $4.5 million or 5.32% as of July 1, 2018. The Commission’s decision is based on a cost of equity of 9.35%. The approved rates reflect the current federal tax rate of 21%. The Commission’s decision also required that Emera Maine defer the difference between rates based upon the 34% and 21% tax rate for the period of January 1, 2018 to June 30, 2018. By Order dated September 11, 2018, the Commission granted in part a Motion for Reconsideration from the Company, deciding to reopen the question of how the savings associated with the TCJA for the January 1, 2018 through June 30, 2018 time period should be calculated. This issue is being considered in another docket (Docket 2018-00271) in conjunction with the review of the excess deferred income taxes that resulted from the TCJA. 

Northern Utilities: As noted in this Maine Public Utilities Commission document:

On May 31, 2017, Northern Utilities requested approval for an increase in distribution rates of $6.5 million. After incorporating the effect of the TCJA and the Commission’s determinations in the case, the Commission ordered Northern to decrease its rates by $87,243 as of March 1, 2018. The Commission did not approve any rate increase associated with the adjustments presented by the Company to its test year operating revenues.

Maine Natural Gas: As noted in this Maine Public Utilities Commission document:

On January 11, 2018, the Commission opened an investigation into the impact of the TCJA on Maine Natural Gas and whether any rate adjustments are warranted (Docket 2018-00005). The Company’s rates were adjusted to reflect the effects of the TCJA in its annual rate adjustment filing (Docket 2018-00057).

Maine Water Company: As noted in this March 15, 2019 Maine Public Utilities Commission document: 

According to the Stipulation, only five MWC Divisions – Camden and Rockland, Freeport, Oakland, Skowhegan, and Millinocket – will experience significant reductions in their overall federal income tax expenses as a result of the Tax Act. MWC has agreed to record a monthly regulatory liability for the reduction in its federal income tax expense beginning January 1, 2018, and continuing through the next applicable rate case, plus carrying costs set at MWC’s last allowed weighted average cost of capital (WACC) for those five Divisions. This accumulated liability will flow back to ratepayers over a period to be decided in each Division’s next general rate case, which will be filed no later than March 1, 2022. MWC will also record excess water infrastructure surcharge revenues, including carrying costs set at their last allowed WACC, from the same five Divisions beginning January 1, 2018, and continuing until the effective date of any adjustments made to the water infrastructure surcharge in the division’s next water infrastructure surcharge filing. With respect to the four Divisions that will not book a regulatory liability but have a decrease in water infrastructure surcharge revenue as a result of the Tax Act, the Company will make a full adjustment of the water infrastructure surcharge revenue in those Divisions’ next water infrastructure surcharge filing.

Additionally, MWC will treat excess deferred income taxes (EDITs) as an adjustment to rate base in each Division. The total EDIT balance at the time of a general rate filing will be allocated to the Division seeking to increase rates using the allocation method developed in Docket No. 2017-00163 and shown in Appendix B to the Stipulation. Adjustments generated by the Tax Act related to plant assets will be returned to ratepayers using the average rate assumption method as required by the Internal Revenue Service. MWC will amortize non-plant asset EDITs over a 10-year period beginning at the conclusion of each Division’s next general rate case.

Conversely, if Biden and Democrats raise the corporate tax rate, they will add to the burden faced by working families. And any small businesses operate on tight margins and can't afford higher heating, cooling, gas, and refrigeration costs.

President Biden should withdraw his tax increases.

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