Animal activists come to Augusta to once again block the repeal of funding for a very successful spay / neuter program

In 2017 Maine animal activists came out strongly in Augusta against LD 1601 “An Act to Reduce Costs to Businesses by Phasing Out the Pet Food Surcharge”, which was supported by the Governor as a pro-business bill. 

The bill, one of many submitted over the years by the pet food industry to undermine and repeal a minor pet food tax surcharge that supports Maine’s successful companion animal sterlization fund (Help Fix ME program) and also helps fund state animal cruelty investigations.

With very little notice, 75 animal advocvates submitted testimony in opposition to the proposed funding repeal. In its original form, this bill attempted to remove the pet food surcharge and as a result would have drastically reduced funding for Maine’s Animal Welfare Program’s low-cost spay / neuter program.

As best said by one of the Agriculture Conservation and Forestry committee members: “so we have a fee that no one is complaining about, it funds a much-needed program, it has been adminstered successfully, it doesn’t hurt the pet food industry at all, yet here we are.”  The committee not only defeated the bill, they flipped it, renamed and amended it to increase the funding allocated for the program. The amended bill title was “An Act to Increase Funds Deposited into the Companion Animal Sterization Fund Through the Pet Food Surcharge.”

This was a big victory that sent a clear message to the pet food industry and other states who are adapting a similar program. Special kudos to Sharon Secovich and Susan Hall for their tireless work in beginning, helping implement, continuously supporting and fighting to keep the Health Fix ME program.

 

MFOA Testimony in OPPOSITION to L.D. 1601 - Pet Food Surcharge Repeal

Testimony of Robert Fisk, Jr.
President and Director, Maine Friends of Animals
Testimony in OPPOSITION to L.D. 1601 “An Act To Reduce Costs to Businesses by Phasing Out the Pet Food Surcharge”
Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry
May 16, 2017

Good afternoon, Sen. Davis and Rep. Dunphy and members of the Committee.

My name is Robert Fisk Jr. I am President and Director of Maine Friends of Animals (MFOA), the state’s leading animal protection organization for the past 20 years. Given the history, this “emergency” bill is very disappointing and we strongly oppose it.

There are others who will provide ample testimony on the purpose, need and specifics for why this small tax surcharge needs to remain in place. I would instead like to briefly provide the Committee with some history relative to this legislation.

I served on the original Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (AWAC) for six years and have subsequently attended many AWAC meetings since. During that time, the Animal Welfare Program was continually underfunded and the AWAC spent countless hours in meetings, ad-hoc groups and legislative initiatives to remedy the need to fund animal welfare properly. Through the years, certain forms of funding were found outside the normal department budget and General Fund. Hard work by animal advocates and legislators eventually created dedicated revenue to the Animal Welfare Program in the forms of an “Adopt” license plate, a tax return check-off, and the pet food tax surcharge, that goes to the Help Fix Me sterilization fund, which has been immensely successful; and in helping to fund investigation of animal cruelty cases.

Despite these various funding efforts, the Animal Welfare Program continued to work as a underfunded program. AWAC has since searched, without success, to find other funding which the state has failed to provide or budget for. This chronic under-funding is unfair to the program, the people who provide for animal welfare, and the animals the public rightfully expects the state to protect as mandated.

The pet food industry has repeatedly tried to undermine and remove this surcharge and has been rebuffed in the past. I urge the Committee to reject it again. The cost to consumers is pennies, but pennies which add up and are vitally important to help the Maine’s Animal Welfare Program Help Fix ME program and in the general mission to protect animals that are subject to abuse, neglect, cruelty and suffering.

LD. 1601 is a terrible step backwards. I urge the Committee to consider the history of the lack of funding for animal welfare and the benefit the current surcharge provides, and report out this legislation unanimously ‘Ought Not To Pass.’ 

 

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