AUGUSTA — A proposal for a dedicated lodging facility accommodating state legislators has been roundly panned by city business owners and officials as unfair competition that would hurt the local economy.

Those critics, who spoke Tuesday during a legislative hearing, also said the proposal is unnecessary in a market with plenty of places to stay overnight already and they would rather have millions of dollars spent instead on housing for low income and working people.

L.D. 1738, “An Act to Create Lodging for Legislators,” is sponsored by Rep. Benjamin Collings, D-Portland, who said it would save taxpayers’ money over time while making it easier for state legislators, many of whom come from hours away when the Legislature is in session, to stay overnight while they are in the capital doing the public’s business. He said the cost of building the lodging, which he said would likely be at least $27 million, could be partially offset by renting out rooms to the general public when the Legislature is not active.

“The main intent of this is to save taxpayers’ money over time,” Collings said of the proposal. “I think, additionally, it could be a better environment for legislators. It would be more productive for legislators to have a place to go, where they could keep their clothes, rest, get something to eat. I just think it’d be better for legislators and at the same time save money for taxpayers.”

But several detractors — including state Sen. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta, local hotel owners, and lodging, tourism and business group leaders — lined up Tuesday to testify against the proposal to the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee.

They said the lodging facility would be unfair, state-funded competition for local lodging facilities and is unnecessary because there are already 794 hotel rooms in Augusta and 900 rooms in the region. They also questioned whether the proposal would really save any money, and suggested the cost of building it could be better used providing housing amid a statewide housing shortage.


They said a much simpler, and cheaper, way to solve the problem of legislators needing places to stay while doing legislative business in Augusta would be to raise the per-diem housing allowances for legislators, which was recently increased from $38 to $70 per night.

Alec Rogers, from Maine Evergreen Hotel in Augusta, testifies Tuesday against L.D. 1738, “An Act to Create Lodging for Legislators,” before the State and Local Government committee at the Cross State Office Building in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The legislation “attempts to solve the problem in a manner that is extremely unfair to Maine family businesses like my own, which have only sought to serve the Legislature and the traveling public in good faith,” said Alec Rogers, who, with his wife, Julie, owns Maine Evergreen Hotel in Augusta. “Such an enterprise could only make fiscal sense, as has been indicated by the sponsor, by competing in the full year-round market and that would only be at the cost of independent Maine businesses, such as my wife’s and my family business and the Maine families who depend on our business for their livelihood.”

State Sen. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta, testifies Tuesday against L.D. 1738 before the State and Local Government committee. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Pouliot also said the proposal would create unfair, government-funded competition for lodging establishments, both for customers as well as for workers in a tight labor market. And he said the money could be better spent on housing residents, not legislators.

“This bill would be funding another governmental authority and level of bureaucracy for the housing of ourselves while leaving the issue of affordable housing for our constituents wide open,” Pouliot said. “Let’s caution ourselves before we inject the government into a reeling housing and labor market for self-serving reasons when so many Mainers are homeless or can’t afford their own home.”

The bill would establish the Lodging for Legislators Authority, which would be expected to “develop and implement a plan for providing adequate and convenient lodging for legislators near the State House complex.”

The authority would be overseen by a board that would be charged with evaluating the costs of various options for developing a lodging facility, including purchasing, leasing, or renovating an existing facility. The board would evaluate the costs of options over a 30-year period, relative to the costs to the state of the housing allowance paid to legislators over that same time period. The board would be expected to report its findings to the Joint Standing Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs by Jan. 15, 2024.


Collings said over time the proposal would save the state money, by applying the funds now paid to legislators for their housing allowance toward the cost of building and running the facility. And he said revenues could be produced by renting out rooms in the facility to the public at market rates during the substantial portions of the year when the Legislature isn’t meeting in Augusta. He suggested the facility could be an existing building, such as a state office building that might become vacant and/or an historic building. He said a three-star hotel with around 100 rooms would cost at least $27 million to build.

Rep. Austin Theriault, R-Fort Kent, the only other lawmaker to speak in favor of the bill, said Maine is one of the most rural states in the nation and for years legislators have had to either stay in hotels four nights a week and eat out, or look to purchase a house to have decent housing with access to a way to cook.

He said a recent increase in the reimbursement rate for housing prompts a conversation about how those funds could be best spent. His written testimony urged legislators to pass the bill but Tuesday he said it might be best to first study the idea until some better numbers are available on whether it would save money.

The proposed legislation states “to the extent of available funding, the authority shall develop a cost-effective lodging facility with a goal of making the facility available for members of the Legislature by January 2025.”

The several co-sponsors of the bill include Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic.

The proposed new authority would be overseen by a board made up of seven members: the state treasurer, three members appointed by the president of the Senate and three members appointed by the speaker of the House, who would serve four-year terms.

Scott Cowger, from Maple Hill Farm Inn and Conference Center in Hallowell, testifies Tuesday against L.D. 1738, “An Act to Create Lodging for Legislators,” before the State and Local Government committee at the Cross State Office Building in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

James Bass, president of the Augusta Board of Trade, echoed others in saying the best way for the state to make it easier for legislators from out of the area to stay in Augusta would be to increase their housing allowance.

Former state legislator Scott Cowger, an owner of Maple Hill Farm Inn and Conference Center in Hallowell, said legislators renting rooms there in the winter, which is a slow time of year for tourism in Maine, helps keep the inn’s employees on the payroll year-round. He said the area already has an ample number of hotel rooms and other lodging including an increasing number of short-term rentals.

“There is no need for this bill,” Cowger said, “and I urge the committee to vote a unanimous ought not to pass.”

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