Connecticut lawmakers set to tackle gas tax holiday, free buses, heating assistance in special session

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — State legislators will have a lot on their slate when they convene for a special session.

From fare-free bus rides to the rising cost of home heating oil, lawmakers will have a lot to consider.

The special session is expected sometime next week. It will be the final vote for a lame-duck legislature. The newly elected members will be sworn in in January.

Here are some of the issues they will be discussing:

Free bus fares

Free bus rides could continue through the spring.

It is something, riders said, that has made a difference during the pandemic.

“It definitely helped along the way, especially for me, since I don’t have a car,” Demonte Nash, who is from Bristol, said.

Gas tax holiday

Set to expire in less than two weeks lawmakers will most likely extend the gas tax holiday.

“It will drop off by $0.05 per month,” House Speaker Matt Ritter (D-Hartford). “So, the $0.25 for the holiday will last until January 1. Then, it gets $0.20, and $0.15 the next month. We reserve the right to revisit it.”

“Hero” pay

A pandemic pay program for grocery store clerks, first responders, journalists, and others deemed essential during COVID-19 shutdowns could get an infusion of more money.

Governor Ned Lamont said after meeting with legislative leaders, “There is broad agreement for those essential workers who are most in need.”

An estimated 250,000 workers applied, and 134,000 were approved. However, workers stand to receive far less than the $1,000 benefit initially talked about.

There is bipartisan support to increase funding from $35 million to $90 million. The comptroller-elect said the program needs $122 million to fully fund the promised bonuses.

Sen. Kevin Kelly, the Republican minority leader, blames Democrats for the shortfall.

“Once the elections pass, they go back to their old habits,” Kelly said. “And here we are again. They made a promise to people, essential workers, and now we’re falling short of that promise.”

Ritter said Republicans never voted for the program, and that there was never a promise. While those who make more will likely see less of a bonus, he said the goal is still to give everyone approved some funds.

Cost of home heating oil

The state’s LIHEAP – a low-income heating program was cut. While some money was restored, Republicans said that more is needed.

Lamont said that if the federal government does not step up with funding, the state will make up the difference, up to $130 million.

Kelly said he’s frustrated.

“How many times do you have to wait on dysfunctional Washington to do something before you start getting the message?” i said

State budget surplus

The comptroller reports the state’s budget reserve is estimated at $6.1 billion.

Kelly said that it is a “historic” operational surplus.

“I’m not even looking at rainy-day funds,” he said. When you juxtapose that against people who are on a fixed income and struggling with a 40-year high in inflation. Our state can do better.”

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