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Representatives seek gas breaks, solutions in ‘time of war’

FILE - A man pumps gas at a mini-mart in Pittsburgh on June 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

With gas prices hovering at $5 per gallon amid summer price hikes and conflict in Europe, state lawmakers are proposing a raft of solutions — from corporate controls to tax holidays.

The rising fuel prices come alongside broad inflation and cost-of-living increases, particularly for necessities like food and housing. Experts have pointed to many causes, including supply bottlenecks and outright price-gouging.

Gas prices, however, have surged particularly high since Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine. The ongoing war has led to sanctions against Russia, a major oil and gas producer, and has had a domino effect on U.S. politics in a midterm election year.

In Harrisburg, legislators are seeking support for summertime fixes — some more likely to draw interest than others.

This week, Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Bethlehem Township, proposed suspending the state’s 57.6-cent-per-gallon gas tax through Labor Day, covering roughly two months of summer vacation travel.

“It is beyond time that we provide relief to all Pennsylvania families who are bearing the brunt of cost increases at the gas pump,” Boscola said in a memo. “This financial strain, left unchecked, will mean less

spending during a season that usually sees the highest rate of tourism / travel across the commonwealth.”

Two days earlier, Sen. Marty Flynn, D-Scranton proposed a more ambitious break: a gas-tax holiday lasting through the end of the year. State officials could draw down revenue surpluses and federal relief money to cover the lost income, Flynn said.

GOP candidates have been quick to blame President Joe Biden and his Democratic allies in Pennsylvania for the high prices, seeking to seize the election-year opportunity. In a tweet last week, the state Republican Party blamed Democratic leadership, including gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Josh Shapiro, for “$5 gallon” prices.

Some Democratic officials, meanwhile, have blamed fossil fuel companies for the soaring prices, pointing to record-high profits.

Biden sent a letter this week to refining companies, threatening to use federal powers to ensure more fuel makes it to market. “At a time of war, refinery profit margins well above normal being passed directly onto American families are not acceptable,” he wrote.

In Harrisburg, two state representatives aim to strike at the companies themselves, with a proposal to stop same-day price hikes and investigate alleged gouging at the pump.

Polls show opening Dem leads

Democratic hopefuls for the state’s two most-watched elections hold an early lead over their opponents, according to one of the first polls since the Pennsylvania primaries.

A Suffolk University/USA Today poll released Wednesday shows Shapiro with a 4-percent lead over state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Fayetteville, in the election to replace Gov. Tom Wolf. With a 4% margin of error and a significant share of voters still undecided, however, the race remains competitive.

That election could dictate much of the state’s political future, especially if Republicans hold the General Assembly.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman holds a clearer lead over Mehmet Oz, the celebrity physician running for Pennsylvania’s open U.S. Senate seat. That race — already drawing national attention and money — could be the decider between Democratic and Republican control of the Senate, and potentially of Congress.

Fetterman leads Oz by 9%, or 46 to 37 points, according to the poll of likely voters. Only 5 percent of those polled said they were undecided, while some shared their potential votes among a handful of third-party candidates.

Oz and Fetterman’s race has already been marked by public accusations (and a bit of mockery). Fetterman’s camp made much this week from a typo in Oz’s official statement of candidacy, using a town name misspelling (“Huntington” vs. Huntingdon” Valley) to hammer home their characterization of Oz as an out-of-state interloper.

Lawmakers target ‘sedition’

While Congress investigates the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol, state lawmakers are continuing a push to expand sedition laws and bar those convicted from holding office. Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta and Rep. Chris Rabb, both Democrats of Philadelphia, said last week that they want to create new laws covering “seditious conspiracy against the commonwealth.”

Another proposal — a constitutional amendment barring anyone convicted of sedition from holding office in Pennsylvania — would need to pass both chambers for two sessions, then pass a public vote.

Some accused Capitol rioters have been charged with seditious conspiracy, a federal crime that can carry a steep prison term. A handful have been convicted so far.

Ryan Brown covers statewide politics for Ogden Newspapers. He can be reached at

rbrown@altoonamirror.com.

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