1985 State Law That Inflates Gas Prices Might Be Doomed; the Intent Was to Prevent Predatory Pricing. A Coalition Wants It Repealed

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Byline: J. TAYLOR RUSHING

TALLAHASSEE --A coalition that includes all Florida school boards and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is attacking a 21-year-old state law designed to protect smaller gasoline retailers from predatory pricing, saying it's keeping fuel prices unnecessarily high.

Sen. Nancy Argenziano, R-Dunnellon, Rep. Dave Russell, R-Spring Hill, and Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, announced Thursday a bipartisan bill that would repeal the law, which requires gas stations to sell fuel at higher prices to discourage predatory prices.

Repealing that requirement, legislators said, could save consumers up to 7 cents per gallon and cumulatively as much as $748 million per year.

"This is essentially a tax on the public without any benefit," Argenziano said. "If we have an opportunity to help consumers, we have an obligation to do that."

Gov. Jeb Bush supports the legislation, issuing a statement calling for "the forces of the free market to bring relief to Floridians at the pump."

The legislation -- SB 2072 in the Senate and HB 909 in the House -- is being pushed by the Coalition for Lower Gas Prices, a non-profit corporation founded by Wal-Mart; Murphy USA, a gas retailer that sells fuel at Wal-Mart Supercenters; Sam's Club; and the Florida School Boards Association.

Defenders of Florida's minimum markup law note the 1985 law's original intent was to prevent large corporations from entering an area, selling gasoline below cost to eliminate competition and then raising prices afterward.

Paul Fiore, executive vice president of the Maryland-based Service Station Dealers of America and Allied Trades association, said removing that protection could have a disastrous effect for consumers.

"The problem from the small service station's perspective is that this is protection from predatory pricing, and there's a gap in understanding by consumers in how predatory pricing can harm them," Fiore said. …