Lawmakers extend gas tax holiday, home heating assistance, ‘hero pay’ during special session
HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) – Lawmakers are aiming to give taxpayers some relief, at least when it comes to gasoline and home heating.
Both chambers of the state legislature approved a plan on Monday.
They could have waited until the legislative session starts in January, but they said they wanted to go back sooner. They specifically cited the state’s gas tax suspension deadline.
“If we didn’t take action today, on Dec. 1 the gas tax would spring back and the bus fare would go back into effect,” said Senate president Martin Looney, a Democrat.
The winter could be a tough one for thousands of Connecticut families, so the House of Representatives and Senate approved a number of emergency assistance programs on Monday.
In the House, only a handful of Republican representatives voted against the more than $200 million financial package. Republicans argued that the programs didn’t go far enough to help Connecticut families.
In the Senate, every member who was present voted “yes,” with three members being absent.
Lawmakers agreed to put an additional $30 million into LIHEAP, a program to help low-income families. They also agreed to put $4.5 million into Operation Fuel.
Applications for energy assistance were up 17-percent from the same time last year.
“The goal is to get customers an affordable rate,” said Claire Coleman, Consumer Counsel.
As an added bonus, Eversource said it would put in $10 million and United Illuminating would add $3 million.
“All you are doing is passing along generation prices. It’s all [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s fault, but I think it’s a good faith effort to step up for the ratepayers,” said Gov. Ned Lamont.
Massive electric rate hikes are coming, mainly due to natural gas supply issues, according to Eversource and UI.
The hikes are expected to add on average about $85 a month, but there will also be a $10 credit due to extra power generated at millstone.
Eversource needs gas to create electricity. State Attorney General William Tong said Eversource may not be at fault, but it should do more given its huge profits.
“The most recent numbers show they’ve made over $500 million in earnings and I think they should do their best to help ratepayers in this crisis, in this emergency,” Tong said.
Republicans have been pushing for more energy assistance. They were also looking for more.
“It’s not enough mind you, but something is better than nothing for people in need,” said Sen. Kevin Kelly, Republican minority leader. “This is a start, but by no means the end. I think this is something people want. We’ve been fighting this, we started it way back in early last legislative session.”
“We do need to look a bit more intentional about long term ability for the state to precure energy and cost. But this is a national issue,” said Rep. Jason Rojas, majority leader.
Also out of Monday’s session, lawmakers agreed on some relief at the gas pump.
Lawmakers want to keep the 25-cent gas tax suspended for another month. After that, 5 cents more will be added each month to get back to 25.
The bill they approved also keeps bus service free until April 1.
Lawmakers also agreed to put more money into the state’s pandemic relief fund, or “hero pay.”
Private sector workers were promised bonuses, but the fund is running out of money because more people applied than expected.
Democrats wanted to add $30 million more to a home energy assistance program for low-income families, which would help with an expected rise in utility costs.
Republicans argued that given the state’s strong fiscal situation, the gas tax should be paused longer, and more money needed to be put into heating assistance.
All in all, lawmakers said they are keeping an eye on trends and where the cost of gas could go next.
“During the summer, gas prices went down a little bit. But now they’re going up a little bit, which is why we are working together right now and looking at whether we should extend this or not,” said Rep. Sean Scanlon, a Democrat from Guilford and comptroller-elect.
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