Burr and Tillis should oppose newsprint tax


With a single vote, North Carolina’s U.S. senators can help stop a trade war in its tracks, preserve American jobs and prevent government from taking an unseemly swipe at the media watchdogs that hold it accountable.

Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis should add their names to the PRINT Act, a bipartisan bill that would suspend costly tariffs on Canadian paper imports threatening to hobble small-town newspapers and drive up the cost of bestselling books. Interim tariffs introduced this spring are already putting the squeeze on printers and publishers.

Maine’s Senate delegation, Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King, introduced the bill on Monday. Six GOP senators — Roy Blunt of Missouri, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Roger Wicker of Mississippi — have signed on as co-sponsors along with a duo of Senate Democrats, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Doug Jones of Alabama.

The bill, whose formal name is the Protecting Rational Incentives in Newsprint Trade Act of 2018, seeks to pause tariffs on uncoated groundwood paper produced in Canada and sold in the United States until the federal Commerce Department completes a study of the border tax’s impact on the publishing industry.

Newsprint prices have spiked by roughly 25 percent due to preliminary duties already in place, and new tariffs coming down the pike could increase costs by another 32 percent.

While the American Forest and Paper Association, the trade group for American paper mills, opposes the tariffs and says domestic producers can compete with Canada, commerce officials slapped our neighbor to the north with punitive taxes at the behest of a single company, North Pacific Paper Co. in Washington state.

NORPAC, as the paper mill is better known, is owned by a New York hedge fund that’s willing to jeopardize jobs and harm the entire industry its subsidiary serves in order to maximize profit.

As the price of newsprint soars, papers large and small are feeling the pinch. In March, the Tampa Bay Times in Florida announced it would lay off roughly 50 employees to help offset an estimated $3 million in increased expenses.

Already adjusting to declines in advertising revenue and print circulation, some weekly and small daily newspapers will be unable to absorb the cost of NORPAC’s tailor-made tariffs and may close their doors, turning the communities they cover into news deserts. Citizens are less informed and corruption flourishes when there are no reporters holding county commissions, city councils and school boards accountable.

Stable and well-managed papers — we count ourselves among that cohort — will roll with the punches, but subscribers could still be affected if the border tax and the bureaucratic hassle it brings causes shortages in newsprint supply.

“Many would say, ‘Just buy American.’ We would love to, but NORPAC combined with the remaining U.S. paper mills do not have the capacity to supply the nation’s demand for newsprint,” Sunbelt Press plant manager Tracy McLamb wrote in The Daily Record of Dunn. “...As the buyer of newsprint for this newspaper and the other publications we print, I have to buy from Canada.”

Newspapers perform a vital public service by keeping an eye on local governments. All residents, even those who don’t subscribe to their community newspapers, benefit from these institutions fulfilling their watchdog role.

Local reporting is a public service, yet the newspaper industry isn’t asking for government bailouts, like banks or car companies, or seeking subsidies to do its job, like public radio and television broadcasters. All newspapers want is for bureaucrats to stop meddling in their private business relationships with paper suppliers. Congress shouldn’t consider that to be an unreasonable request.

Through its membership in the North Carolina Press Association, this newspaper is part of Stop Tariffs on Printing & Publishing, or STOPP, a coalition of book and newspaper publishers, journalism organizations and trade groups representing more than 600,000 American workers in the fight against costly Canadian paper tariffs. We’re proud to stand with our industry peers and sound the alarm over this reckless trade tax, which could result in retaliatory tariffs on American exports to Canada.

The Tar Heel State is home to more than 120 daily and weekly newspapers with a combined circulation in the millions. For those readers, their constituents, Burr and Tillis should sponsor the PRINT Act and work toward its swift passage.

Call or write your senators and urge them to co-sponsor and vote for the PRINT Act to preserve local journalism in North Carolina:

• Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., 202-224-3154, 217 Russell Senate Office Building, https://www.burr.senate.gov/contact/email, Twitter: @SenatorBurr

• Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., 202-224-6342, 185 Dirksen Senate Office Building, https://www.tillis.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/email-me, Twitter: @SenThomTillis