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Suffolk committee approves bill on gasoline credit card prices

Gas prices at a Gulf Station in Brentwood

Gas prices at a Gulf Station in Brentwood on July 31, 2013. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

A Suffolk legislative committee Wednesday approved proposed legislation to help consumers avoid excessive credit card prices at the gas pump in a split 4-2 vote, despite industry claims that the software the measure would require does not exist.

Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), the bill's sponsor, said the proposal still has "an uphill fight" for passage Tuesday when it comes before the full county legislature. He said he expects the entire Republican caucus and two Democrats to oppose the measure. Democratic legislators with minor party allies hold a 12-6 majority.

The proposal would require gasoline stations that charge more than 5 percent more at the pump for credit card purchases to get the consent of consumers before they fuel. Automated pump displays would have to inform customers how much more they will pay per gallon, and customers would be prompted about whether they want to proceed. Schneiderman said some stations charge up to a $1 a gallon more for paying by credit card.

Legis. Thomas Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) branded the proposal as "government gone wild," saying signs on pumps that are nine inches high alert customers to the price difference. "It's as clear as day," Cilmi said.

Cathy Ann Kenny, associate director of the New York State Petroleum Council, said retailers rely on two or three manufacturers, which do not sell software that the proposed county law would require. She said it would take far longer than the six months allowed under the law to comply and the cost could be excessive.

Michael Watt, executive director of the Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association, said the proposed 5 percent differential smacks of price fixing, calling it "a slippery slope for government to interfere with the marketplace."

Schneiderman called the measure "reasonable," and said customers often do not notice the price difference until after they finish filling up. He said there are only about 20 stations with excessive price differences, and that "mom and pop" stations that do not charge excessively would not be required to install equipment.

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