Floridians lodge more than 1,000 price-gouging complaints, mostly about gas, many seemingly baseless

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As Hurricane Matthew blows past, Floridians have lodged more than 1,200 complaints to the state’s price-gouging hotline. Most of the gripes are about gas prices — and, at first glance, many seem baseless.

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Many of the Palm Beach County complaints came from callers or Internet tipsters who cited pump prices less than the county’s average, according to a list of complaints provided by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

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The average price of a gallon of regular gas in Palm Beach County has hovered near $2.35 over the past few days, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. One caller griped about $2.11 gas at a Shell in Delray Beach. Another reported $2.14 gas at a Cumberland Farms in Palm Springs.

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A few complaints cited prices of more than $3, although it was unclear if that tab was for regular, premium or diesel.

Florida’s anti-gouging law, passed after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, bans businesses from boosting prices for gas, ice, hotel rooms, plywood and other items in high demand when a storm threatens.

A breakdown of the complaints by county:

  1. Miami-Dade: 230
  2. Broward: 188
  3. Palm Beach: 174
  4. Orange: 63
  5. Volusia: 59

And a breakdown by type of product:

  1. Gas: 891
  2. Food/water/ice: 239
  3. Hotel/motel: 30

State law considers price gougers to be opportunistic jackals. But economic purists worry that anti-gouging laws impose artificial price controls that can hamper hurricane preparation and recovery efforts.

If gas stations were allowed to jack up prices before the storm, the thinking goes, panicked motorists might not fill up on gas they don’t necessarily need.

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