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Sunday, October 09, 2005

Rising heating oil costs becomes a political issue

The cost of heating a home has gone up as high as 120 percent this season and cost will bring yet another hardship to many families in Connectcut. Knowing that they will be the first to be blamed by the public, lawmakers are offering proposals that will take some of the cost of burden off the poor familes.

From The Hartford Courant
Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell was the first to step forward this week by suggesting a tax credit for low-income families. Democratic legislators then proposed spending $30 million on fuel assistance and conservation measures. Even Attorney General Richard Blumenthal weighed in with a three-point plan to keep citizens warm and save energy.

What all sides are still figuring out is precisely how to get the assistance into the right hands in time to offset an anticipated rise in the prices of both home heating oil and natural gas. All three plans would require approval by the legislature in a special session because officials do not want to wait until the next regular session convenes in February.

Sen. John Fonfara, a Hartford Democrat, says the state must work immediately to avoid a potential tragedy.

"We should not wait until there is a front-page story of a senior citizen freezing to death this winter," Fonfara said. "The time to act on this comprehensive energy package is now."

House Speaker James Amann and Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams both say they intend to call a special legislative session on heating assistance and other issues, which will be separate from Tuesday's special session that Rell has called on campaign finance reform.

"Making sure people have heat this winter is more important than determining whether a lobbyist can give $5, $50 or $100" to a campaign, said Patrick Scully, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats.

The Democratic and Rell plans have not been turned into a bill, meaning that the precise income limits to qualify for heating assistance have not been established.

It would be in the state's best interest to bring a energy assistance bill to the floor as soon as possible. This winter season will be very hard on poor families and in an election year, the last thing a lawmaker needs is a reason for the public to be upset at him or her.