Lawmakers vote to stop gas tax hike in CT

Well aware of motorists' discontent overskyrocketing gasoline prices, state lawmakers voted early Thursdayto stop a planned increase in a state gas tax that would have addedup to 5 cents to the price of a gallon of gas. Proponents acknowledged the savings was small, but said theywanted to send their constituents a message that they care aboutthe rising gas price problem in Connecticut, where the averageprice for a gallon of unleaded gas was $4.35 on Wednesday. "This is something that we can do to provide a service, to letour citizens know that we are very concerned about what they're upagainst," said Sen. Eileen Daily (D-Westbrook), co-chairman of thetax-writing committee. Lawmakers had originally planned the one-day special session toextend a local real estate transaction tax for two more years. Butthe General Assembly has come under pressure to somehow combatrising fuel prices. The tax on wholesale earnings from gasoline sales was supposedto increase from 7 percent to 7.5 percent, raising an estimated $25million in revenue for the state. Republicans, the minority partyin the legislature, failed in their attempts to cap the rate, whichis scheduled to go up to 8.1 percent in five years. Without the cap, they said Thursday morning's action wasminuscule. Besides the gross receipts tax on petroleum products, the statealso imposes a flat, 25-cent-per-gallon tax on gas. That will notchange. Other parts of the bill would make it easier for gas stations tooffer discounts to people who pay for their gas with cash, setaside $2.5 million to help buy fuel efficient furnaces for 3,000low-income and elderly households, and provide stronger protectionsfor consumers who enter into prepaid heating oil contracts. Much of Wednesday's one-day session, which spilled into earlyThursday morning, was consumed by political battles overlegislative rules. The House finally wrapped up the session shortlyafter 3 a.m. Democrats, who control the General Assembly, fought off numerousRepublican attempts to expand that agenda to include other items,such as increased funding for nursing homes and nonprofit socialservice agencies. The GOP is miffed that Gov. M. Jodi Rell, afellow Republican, and the Democrats adjourned the regular sessionwithout making changes to the budget that takes effect on July 1. Majority Democrats said there just isn't enough money to do whatthe GOP wants. "While these are wonderful things to run on, the reality is wecannot do them," said Sen. Toni Harp (D-New Haven). The new fiscal year that takes effect on July 1 is about $150million in deficit. Meanwhile, lawmakers agreed to extend a local tax on real estatetransactions for two more years - a move strongly opposed by realestate agents, but touted by municipal officials who argue theydesperately need the revenue. The tax, paid by the home seller, is expected to raise $36million to $38 million from the slowing real estate market. "In our world, revenues are very difficult to obtain," saidNew Britain Mayor Timothy Stewart, whose city is expecting about$400,000 from the tax. New Britain is facing a budget deficit ofabout $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 poormarket. The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities estimates thetax would add $420 to the sale of a $300,000 home. "If you don't kill it now, it's here to stay," warned Sen.David Cappiello (R-Danbury). "Please keep the promise you made fiveyears ago." House Republicans tried to amend the bill to exempt everyonefrom senior citizens to people who owe more on their homes thanwhat the property is worth. Each attempt failed. In other action, lawmakers passed a long-awaited bill thatallows the revocation of government pensions of state and localofficials and employees convicted of corruption. Also, they passeda bill that covers cost overruns in several state agencies,including $21.9 million for the University of Connecticut HealthCenter. All the bills await the governor's signature. Gas stations may get green light to pump down prices

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