'Kick Me'

NYACS: Bill attempts to scapegoat retailers for spike in motor fuel prices

ALBANY, N.Y. -- New York convenience store owners expressed dismay over proposed legislation designed to scapegoat them for the rising price of gasoline, according to the New York Association of Convenience Stores (NYACS).

State Senator Eric Adams (D) and Assemblyman David Weprin (D) have introduced a bill (S.3631/A.6173) that would require retailers to display a sign at the pump inviting motorists angry over high gasoline prices to phone the state Consumer Protection Board to accuse the store of "price gouging."

"It's impossible for consumers to know if the gas price they are paying truly reflects the market value of gas. There is no way for an ordinary person to keep up with the variation of prices across the borough and how quickly they change from day to day," Weprin said at a press conference held at a local gas station, according to information posted on Adams' website.

The legislation, said Jim Calvin, president of NYACS, would equate to requiring retailers to wear "kick me" signs on their backs, casting them as convenient scapegoats simply because they are the only level of the fuel supply chain that motorists come in direct contact with.

"Our members are doing everything they can to keep motor fuel prices competitive," said Calvin. "But they have no control over events in the Middle East and on Wall Street that are driving the surge in wholesale prices which they have to pass along at the pump."

He added, "With gas topping $4 a gallon in many parts of New York, we appreciate the financial and psychological distress our customers are experiencing. It's no picnic for retailers, either--having to buy motor fuel 10,000 gallons at a time, having to forfeit more than half of their gross profit margin to Visa or MasterCard just to electronically process gas purchases made with credit cards, and seeing sales drop inside the store as fuel takes a bigger bite out of customers' wallets."

Calvin suggested that rather than disparaging retailers as "greedy" and "unscrupulous," Adams and Weprin should focus on providing motorists with relief from excessive taxation at the pump, inasmuch as New York has the highest combined federal, state and local gas taxes in the nation at 67.4 cents a gallon, citing the American Petroleum Institute (API).

The legislators urged consumers to report price gouging without telling them what price gouging really is, he said. Section 396-r of the New York State General Business Law defines price gouging as selling vital consumer goods or services at an unconscionably excessive price during an abnormal disruption of the market that results in the governor declaring a state of emergency. While everyone is justifiably concerned, no such emergency has been declared so far.

"If people suspect the seller of any product or service is overcharging, the marketplace has a solution--competition," said Calvin. "Whether it's motor fuel, clothing, or meals, those who overprice lose business to those who price competitively. Thus, while registering complaints and pointing fingers may be great ways for consumers to vent frustration, their best and simplest recourse for a price they deem excessive is to drive on and buy where it's more competitively priced."

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