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Conn. lawmakers to take up heating oil and gas prices

June 10, 2008 2:00:40 PM PDT
State lawmakers have added the soaring cost of heating homes to the agenda of Wednesday's special session, which has already been expanded to include bills dealing with gasoline prices. The legislators plan to spend $2.5 million to begin providing fuel efficient burners and furnaces to more than 3,000 low-income and elderly families across Connecticut.

"We know that people are feeling pain all across the state," said Sen. Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn. "They are having to cut back dramatically on other expenses to pay for energy, gasoline, and will have to do so for home heating oil this winter."

The $2.5 million allotment is designed to kick-start a new $15 million Oil Conservation Fund that was approved in 2007. Lawmakers hope that by making sure needy families have fuel efficient furnaces, the state will ultimately save about $64 million in fuel assistance and help more families cover the cost of heating their homes this winter.

"We're facing a crisis now that doesn't seem to have one answer," said Bruce Deitch, vice president of Kasden Fuel Co. in East Hartford. "People can't afford to pay these prices."

Legislative leaders also plan to take up a bill designed to protect consumers who enter into prepaid heating oil contracts by making them easier to understand and toughening the penalties for any company that breaks a contract.

Lawmakers had originally planned to return to the Capitol Wednesday to take up a bill that extends a local tax on real estate transactions - a move strongly opposed by many real estate brokers but championed by municipalities that say they need the $40 million in revenue. But in recent weeks, legislators, who adjourned in May without making adjustments to the state budget, have been pressured address skyrocketing fuel prices as well.

They plan to postpone a July 1 increase in the state's tax on wholesale earnings from gasoline sales. The tax is slated to jump from 7 percent to 7.5 percent, and would raise $25 million in revenue for the state while adding 5 cents to the price at the pump.

They've also agreed to take up a bill that would override franchise agreements between oil companies and gas stations, allowing the retailers to offer discounts to customers who pay cash to fill their tanks. That bill died during the regular legislative session.

Advocates predict the legislation could save motorists 10 to 20 cents per gallon in a state where a gallon of regular unleaded averaged $4.35 on Tuesday, according to AAA.

Asked why the fuel-related bills were not taken up during the regular legislative session, lawmakers said they were dealing with other issues and ran out of time.


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