Lawmakers to address oil, gas prices

June 11, 2008 12:44:59 PM PDT
State lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Wednesday to take up bills dealing with the soaring costs of gasoline and home heating oil. They were also expected to extend a local tax on real estate transactions for another two years - a move strongly opposed by real estate agents, but touted by municipal officials who argue they desperately need the revenue.

The tax, paid by the home seller, is expected to raise $36 million to $38 million from the slowing real estate market.

"In our world, revenues are very difficult to obtain," said New Britain Mayor Timothy Stewart, whose city is expecting about $400,000 from the tax. New Britain is facing a budget deficit of about $2.2 million, he said.

But real estate agents claim it's unfair to impose the tax, which was supposed to be temporary, on sellers in such a poor market. The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities estimates the tax would be $420 on the sale of a $300,000 home.

The real estate tax bill was supposed to be the only issue of this week's special legislative session. But since the regular session adjourned in May, legislators have been under increasing pressure to address soaring fuel prices.

On Wednesday's agenda was a proposal to postpone a July 1 state tax increase that would raise gas prices at the pumps by up to 5 cents a gallon.

Legislators also were to debate whether to override contracts between oil companies and franchisees to allow retailers to offer discounts to gas customers who pay with cash instead of credit cards.

Another bill up for discussion calls for spending $2.5 million on fuel efficient burners and furnaces for more than 3,000 low-income and elderly families in Connecticut. Proponents say the measure would help families with their home heating costs and save the state's fuel assistance program about $64 million next winter.

Legislative leaders also plan to take up a bill designed to protect consumers who enter into prepaid heating oil contracts.

It remained unclear whether lawmakers would act on a much-debated ethics bill that would revoke the pensions of corrupt public officials. There's been a disagreement about whether to apply the same standards to elected officials and public employees.