AUGUSTA — Augusta Mayor William Stokes told lawmakers Monday there’s no question in his mind that Central Maine Power Co. is backing a bill to change where the company registers hundreds of vehicles to punish the city for the way it handled a natural gas contract.

“I did receive a call from the president of CMP myself, and it was not a pleasant conversation,” Stokes told members of the Taxation Committee. “So I have my view as to why this bill is before you now.”

After some discussion, legislators tabled the bill that prompted a dispute between the city of Augusta and CMP officials that would cost the city about $200,000 a year in lost excise tax revenue. The legislation, which is backed by Augusta-based CMP, would require utilities to pay excise taxes where their vehicles are located, not where the company is headquartered. As it is now, CMP pays about $300,000 a year in excise tax to the city of Augusta on nearly 500 company vehicles.

Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, took umbrage at Stokes’ contention that the city knows what motivated CMP to change its position and support the bill it opposed three years ago.

“I get upset when people assign motives to others,” Thomas said. “I’m not going to look at motives. I’m going to look at the fairness of the policy. I’m insulted that educated, reasonable people would try to influence us (by speaking about someone else’s) motives when they have no way of knowing what they are. I’m insulted.”

Stokes said CMP’s motivation for backing the bill was to penalize Augusta for how the city treated Maine Natural Gas last year when Augusta sought proposals from companies to provide natural gas to city and school facilities. CMP and Maine Natural Gas are both owned by Iberdrola USA.

The city selected Summit Natural Gas as a gas provider after Maine Natural Gas withdrew its proposal because the city allowed Summit to change its prices after the bids were submitted. Stokes said both Summit and Maine Natural Gas were given opportunities to change their bids.

Stokes said even before the bid process, CMP President Sara Burns personally called him to urge the city strongly not to procure natural gas through a public bid process and, instead, to give the contract to Maine Natural Gas. He said that call is one reason he’s convinced CMP is backing the excise tax change — which company officials testified against in 2011 — in an effort to get back at city officials by paying much of its excise taxes elsewhere.

A CMP lobbyist told the Taxation Committee at a public hearing last week the company backs the change because it would distribute CMP’s excise tax payments more fairly to the municipalities where its vehicles are driven most.

Stokes said utilities pay excise taxes for their vehicles statewide in one location because having to pay them in each municipality they are located would cost more money, and that cost would be passed on to ratepayers.

Private utilities pay excise taxes to the municipality where their vehicles are kept if they have a permanent place of business there.

Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington, who sponsored the bill, said he was asked to do so by a CMP lobbyist. He said he sponsored it because municipalities such as Farmington, where CMP keeps about 20 vehicles, should get the excise taxes on vehicles that drive on local roads.

Joel Harrington, manager of government and community relations for CMP, said last week the proposed law change would bring tax equity to the more than dozen communities across the state where CMP keeps vehicles.

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:[email protected]Twitter: @kedwardskj