HARTFORD, Conn. – With the price of gasoline climbing and the summer driving season around the corner, some of Connecticut's Democratic legislators have crafted a plan to help provide relief at the pump and protect consumers from profiteering and price gouging by big oil wholesalers.
"In this economy, the exorbitantly high price of gas is a burden for working families," said state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, who supports the plan. "This comprehensive plan attempts to rein in gas prices, but more importantly it ensures big oil companies cannot take advantage of consumers by artificially inflating gas price to fill their own pockets."
The price of gasoline is up 15 percent since Jan. 1 and could rise as high as $5 a gallon by the middle of the summer.
The Democrats' plan:
- Caps the gross receipts tax on motor fuels at $3/per gallon wholesale, upon passage. Sunsets June 30, 2013.
- Prohibits oil wholesalers and distributers (those who pay the gross receipts tax) from passing on anything purporting to be based on the tax for the portion of any sales price over $3 per gallon. Any such overcharging a Connecticut Unfair Trade Practice Act violation.
- Amends the petroleum profiteering statute, C.G.S. § 42-234 et seq. ("abnormal market disruptions") to include an automatic trigger based on extreme wholesale price increases, for price gouging protections to go into effect. Puts everyone in supply chain on notice of serious penalties for increasing their profit margins during such disruptions.
- Legislatively declares an "abnormal market disruption" upon passage for a set period of one month in anticipation of further wholesale price spikes. The wholesale price at the Port of New Haven is up $.13 since March 1; The spike has not hit the pumps, with average retail prices rising only $.02 cents since March 1 from $3.99/gal to $4.01/gal.
- Grants the commissioner of the Department of Consumer Protection authority to impose CUPTA fines of up to $10,000 upon large gasoline wholesalers and distributors who are in violation of profiteering laws.This will strengthen the Commissioner's authority, necessary because large wholesalers in violation of profiteering statutes have much greater impact on consumers than individual retailers.
- Institutes similar profiteering protections in regards to home heating oil.
Moderate and lower-income families feel the rising price of gasoline especially hard. According to a recent report by the Brookings Institute:
"Every dollar increase, holding the number of miles driven constant, would cost these moderate and lower-income households an extra $530 per year. For a family with an annual income of $20,000, this is an additional 2.7 percent of their total income. Although higher gas prices eventually encourage consumers to cut back on driving or switch to more fuel-efficient vehicles, in the short run they may have few options but to cut back on other expenditures in the family budget. Since low- and moderate-income families spend most of their income on average, in the very short run they can only choose between spending less on other items and going further into debt."
This feels like the perfect storm, said Gloria McAdam, president and CEO of Foodshare, in a statement. "More people need food because of rising gas prices. And Foodshare is challenged in getting more food to people who need it because of those same rising fuel prices. Any relief the state can provide will be welcomed by both working families and the nonprofit organizations, like Foodshare, that are striving to help those working families."