The Governor called the General Assembly into Special Session on August 22 to allocate the 2008 budget surplus. Had we not gone into session, the $75 million surplus would have lapsed into the “Rainy Day” fund. The surplus primarily resulted from the Governor making strict spending freezes. Unfortunately, it is not a sign of a revenue upswing, and we are still anticipating a deficit in 2009.
The Governor’s call required that we use a portion of the surplus for energy relief. In short, we made some changes to the law to improve energy services and expand eligibility for fuel aid. I believe, however, we fell short by not capping the tax on gasoline, eliminating the sales tax on electricity for nonresidential customers, and providing for a program to ensure the viability of small oil companies and protect consumers when oil companies go bankrupt with prepaid oil contracts. Further, the Governor’s proposal spend less than half of the surplus while the majority party managed to spend almost all of it. Given future deficit projections, I believe some portion of the surplus could have been used to pay off debt.
The bill appropriates $ 8. 5 million for Operation Fuel to provide emergency assistance to households with income levels of more than 150% to 200% of the applicable federal poverty level (“FPL”). For a family of four, the income range is $31,800 to $42,400. The bill appropriates another $ 5 million for emergency home heating assistance to Connecticut households with income levels between 200% of the FPL and 100% of the applicable state median household income. For a family of four, the income range is $42,400 to $93,821. If you fall within this range, I would not hesitate to use this program since it expires once the funds run out.
The bill appropriates $6.5 million for grants to local school districts for school heating assistance calculated on a per-pupil basis and $4 million dollars for senior citizens who have incomes at or below 100% of the state median household income and are unable to make timely payments on deliverable fuel, electricity, or natural gas bills. The bill appropriates $ 3. 5 million dollars for heating assistance grants to human service and public health nonprofit organizations, including those that contract with the state to provide services. Grant recipients may include providers of adult day care, residential services to the homeless, and services to domestic violence victims.
The new law decreases the minimum delivery amount from 150 gallons to 100 gallons, and prohibits companies from providing a surcharge for deliveries of 101 gallons or more; therefore, if you are ordering a minimum delivery, be aware that you may be charged a surcharge on 100 gallons of oil, but not 101 gallons. This oversight undoubtedly will need to be fixed in the next legislative session.
The law increases funding for the rebate program in which people who replace their residential furnaces or boilers with energy efficient ones receive up to $500. The level of rebate varies depending upon the applicant’s annual gross income. This program remains in effect until June 30, 2017.
A second bill allocates $35 million dollars to a contingency fund which may be used for energy assistance in the future. I voted against the bill because it set an unprecedented procedure of appropriating money for an unspecified purpose to be determined by the Governor and Appropriations Committee in the future. The state’s surplus represents taxes that are mainly derived from our middle and upper class families. I believe we have a fiduciary obligation to administer these funds in an open and honest process. The majority party has effectively created an unprecedented slush fund with no indication of where the money is going.
If you have any questions about these programs or other existing programs, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-842-1423.