TRENTON – State gas price-gouging laws “need more teeth” said Senate President Pro Tempore Shirley K. Turner today as the State and local authorities take on the crisis caused by skyrocketing gas prices.
“New Jersey drivers are at the breaking point,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer. “While the Bush Administration is paying lip service to the crisis in Washington, New Jersey is taking action and fighting back. Unfortunately right now it’s like taking on a tank with a BB gun. We need to better arm our local officials to win this battle.”
Senator Turner is co-sponsor of bill S-383, which would amend current law to increase the maximum fine on a motor fuels retailer from $200 to $1,500 for a first offense and $3,000 for any subsequent offense. In addition to the monetary penalty, a retailer’s license would be suspended for between 5 and 30 days for a first offense and revoked upon a second offense.
“Local, county and state monitors are stepping up efforts to monitor gas prices, but even those individuals watching the retailers will tell you that potential profits far outweigh the cost of fines if caught. We need to give our laws more teeth, and making the fine for gas gouging a considerable amount will give retailers pause before cheating consumers,” added Senator Turner.
The bill passed the Senate unanimously in February and now awaits action by the Assembly.
Senator Turner also has a measure pending in the Senate, SR-18, to urge the Attorney General of New Jersey to investigate if price-fixing by gas companies is responsible for the escalation of prices from March 2002 to the present time.
“It’s obvious that the oil companies are just using global uncertainty as an excuse to bilk New Jersey’s hardworking families out of what could become thousands of dollars each year. After years of relatively stable gas prices in the United States, the last four years have brought us huge jumps. While the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina would have certainly led to temporary spikes in gas prices, this does not explain the permanent and steady increase in prices or record oil company profits,” explained Senator Turner.
Between March 2002 and today, gas prices have gone from an average of $1.14 per gallon for regular unleaded gasoline to an average of $2.85 per gallon, for an increase of 150% in the average price. During the same time, profits for oil companies like ExxonMobil have skyrocketed. ExxonMobil’s profits for the fourth quarter of 2005 we a industry record $10.7 billion, a full 75% higher than just a year before.