Members of West Hartford’s legislative delegation all voted in support of a bill in special session intended to provide cost savings to residents.
By Ronni Newton
Connecticut legislators, meeting in special session on Monday, passed bipartisan legislation that extends a suspension of the state’s gas tax, continues free bus fare, and supplements funding for energy assistance and bonus pandemic pay programs for essential workers.
CTNewsJunkie.com reported that both the House and Senate, in back-to-back special sessions, approved a single, 28-page bill. The House approved the legislation 134 -7 with seven Republicans in opposition, while the Senate passed the bill by a unanimous vote of 33-0.
Gov. Ned Lamont signed the comprehensive House Bill 6001 on Tuesday.
On an overall basis, the bill provides more than $200 million in financial benefits and cost saving measures to state residents, including $90 million by keeping the gas tax suspension that was set to expire on Dec. 1. The tax holiday will remain through the end of December and then the 25-cent tax will be gradually phased in during the first five months of 2023 – 5 cents per month at a time.
Bus riders are expected to save $10.8 million through no-cost fares that. have been extended until April. The bill also allocates $75 million to a fund providing bonuses to private sector essential workers who worked during the pandemic, and invests $30 million in programs to provide energy assistance.
“We need to provide relief for Connecticut residents in these uncertain times. Too many folks are feeling financial pressure,” state Sen. Derek Slap (D-West Hartford) said in a statement. “By extending the gas tax holiday and free bus fares, we help countless folks get from point A to point B with money back in their pockets. Investing in the essential workers fund ensures the folks who worked during the worst of the pandemic receive recognition. When energy costs keep rising, bolstering our fuel aid programs will help thousands of households. All of these actions, together, will provide hundreds of millions of dollars of financial relief across Connecticut.”
Bus ridership is reportedly at an all-time high due to the no-cost fare, and Slap noted that residents will continue to save up to $3 per leg of their journey due to the continuation of the program. The April 1 ending date is due to federal regulation, he said, and the extension will cost the state a total of $10.8 million for those four months.
The state originally budgeted $30 million to provide pandemic pay bonuses of up to $1,000, but as many as 155,000 employees – far more than expected – applied for and were deemed eligible for the program. The addition of $75 million will boost the program to $105 million and allow for payment of bonuses ranging from $1,000 for those who earn less than $50,000, with amounts decreasing for higher-paid employees. Legislators plan to continue to address the program shortfall in the 2023 session, CTNewsJunkie.com reported.
Eversource and United Illuminating have already filed rate increases of up to 40%, and the bill passed Monday adds $30 million to existing state and federal heating oil assistance funds, in particular the Low-Income Household Energy Assistance Program, as a contingency in the event federal funding cannot support program costs.
The bill will allow for the sale of existing inventory of beverages now subject to the state’s bottle bill after Jan. 1, delaying a requirement that bottle deposit charges be printed on all container sold after that date. Beverage containers that require a deposit now include hard ciders and seltzers, coffee drinks, and sports and energy drinks.
More details about the bill and the voting by both chambers can be found on CTNewsJunkie.com.
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