George Harrison once wrote, "If you get too cold, I'll tax the heat."

Not only is New Jersey doing that this upcoming winter, said state Sen. Joe Pennacchio, R-Morris, but the Board of Public Utilities also approved up to a 25% increase in natural gas costs for much of the state, adding to consumers' inflation woes.

Worse yet, Pennacchio said that deal stands to put more money in the state's pockets, just as it's taking it out of those of residents.

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When more than 70% of New Jerseyans heat their homes with natural gas, and the state budget has gone up 40% in the last five years, Pennacchio said it's just not fair.

"They can certainly find a way of getting that money to those consumers, to those homeowners, to take away a little bit of the sting that inflation has caused on heating their homes," he said. "And to think that they're actually going to profit, the state will actually profit from increased sales tax revenue because of the increased bump, that's insane."

To rectify the situation on ratepayers' behalf, Pennacchio is proposing a suspension of the sales tax on natural gas until the spring of 2023, which he said is being done in Westchester County, New York.

Home heating is a basic necessity, the senator said, and this solution would change the perception that the state is sitting on its hands and refusing to do anything to ease the burden.

"It also shows that we care," Pennacchio said. "It shows that the administration and legislature feel their pain. I have many people tell me how difficult it is, especially when it comes to energy costs."

On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-NJ-6th, lauded the allocation of an additional $153 million in the state to a more than $455 million total for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, saying the COVID-era American Rescue Plan doubled LIHEAP funding.

Pennacchio recognizes the need for both sides of the aisle to come together on this issue, to "open up the spigot" at a time when energy is the main driver of worldwide inflation.

He said at the state level, any likely legislation could benefit from a co-sponsor who can help quickly move a bill to Gov. Phil Murphy's desk.

That way, perhaps residents can start paying less for whatever energy they are using before Santa puts coal in the state's stocking.

"Hopefully we can get a Democrat to do it, and hopefully the Assembly's listening as well," Pennacchio said. "They can do this before Thanksgiving if they choose to do it."

Patrick Lavery is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com

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