When Republican Sen. Len Suzio of Meriden stopped there Monday to talk with constituents, his main attraction was a petition to support his planned bill to “cap to the state’s hidden tax on gas.”
The “hidden tax” in question is Connecticut’s gross receipts tax, which adds an additional seven percent tax on gas wholesalers, which gets passed on to the consumer, Suzio contends.
Suzio’s legislation would cap the tax on gas when prices exceed three dollars a gallon.
“We’re trying to show the Governor that people in the state are sick and tired on taxes, particularly the gas taxes,” Suzio said.
Dozens signed Suzio’s petition outside the Stop and Shop on Meriden’s west side.
“We’re adding insult to injury, by increasing the tax,” Suzio said. Because the gross receipts tax is a percentage rather than a flat rate, the tax increases as the price of gas climbs.
Suzio hopes that his bill will be on the top of the agenda for the bill in fall special session.
But Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said Tuesday that he didn’t see that bill being raised in isolation in the chamber. He said there are reasons why the gross receipt tax exists in the state.
“One of the reasons is that we don’t have tolls in Connecticut,” he said. “Now it’s very easy to do what Sen. Suzio is doing here and propose a reduction in the gross receipt tax without proposing a replacement for the revenue at a time when we desperately need the revenue.
“Does that mean he’s embracing toll?” he asked. “If he is, at least that would be a responsible position.”
Suzio said he is certainly not embracing tolls. The idea wouldn’t work in Connecticut because most of the state’s large highways receive federal funding, which would be lost if the state imposed tolls on the roads, he said.
“We would lose a gazillion dollars. It would be an insane thing to do. I’m surprised Sen. Looney would even bring it up,” he said.
He said capping the gross receipt tax wouldn’t reduce the state’s revenue because the budget wasn’t calculated to rely on an increase in the tax.
But even if the state did not lose revenue from the cap, Looney said there is no way to ensure that gas wholesalers would pass the savings down to consumers at the gas pump.
He cited an incident this month when federal taxes expired on airlines. All but a few carriers actually raised their fairs to account for the tax and left passengers paying the same amount for tickets while they kept the additional money.
“There’s no way to ensure [gas wholesalers] won’t just pocket the money,” Looney said.
Suzio disagreed, pointing the experiences of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Those state have lower taxes on fuel and have significantly lower prices at the pump, he said.
“I think Sen. Looney must assume that gas sellers in Connecticut are more greedy,” he said.
As far as consumer transportation costs are concerned, Suzio doesn’t put much stock in the state’s investments in public transportation.
“There’s not enough ridership on the bus between New Britain and Hartford or on the high speed train line between New Haven and Springfield,” Suzio said.
“There’s been no cost-benefit analysis that I’ve seen, as they do in private business,” Suzio said.
He added that a light rail train running through downtown Meriden would “discourage” people from coming downtown because of the increased traffic caused by train crossings.
Suzio, who shocked observers by being elected in the heavily Democratic 13th Senate district, was accompanied at the grocery store by several Republican candidates for Meriden city council.
Hugh McQuaid contributed to this report