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States Set The Pace Of Hikes at Gas Pumps

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Planning a family car trip? You might want to cross California off your list. If you have to visit Chicago, avoid filling up in the city. And for those scenic drives through Connecticut, buy your gas in New York.

Sure, the price of gas has shot up enough that official Washington is suddenly interested in trying to ease the situation. But don't look for much relief at the pump from these efforts.

The reason: The oil industry - and the states - will have more influence on this summer's gas prices than either President Clinton's plan to sell US oil reserves or GOP congressional efforts to roll back federal gas taxes.

On the industry side, gasoline prices, up almost 20 cents a gallon from a year ago, are expected to ease, analysts say. With the end of the cold winter, which kept refineries focused on producing heating oil, gasoline should flow more freely from the oil companies. President Clinton's announcement April 29 that he would sell 12 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve should help a little too.

But taxes represent roughly a third of the price of gas. And while Sen. Bob Dole and congressional Republicans push for a rollback of a special 4.3-cent federal gas tax, several states are pushing through tax increases of their own.

Connecticut is the biggest culprit with a 36-cent per-gallon tax on gasoline. The tax is scheduled to increase another 3 cents by Jan. 1, 1997.

On April 1, the same day Connecticut introduced the first of its four one-penny hikes, Idaho raised its gas tax 4 cents a gallon and Missouri hit motorists with a 2-cent-a gallon surcharge.

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