A Surcharge of Dictatorship
Last year, I referred to legislation to ban surcharges on gift certificates as going “the extra totalitarian mile,” and the intrepid Senator Chris Maselli (D, Johnston) has put on his cross-country jackboots again this year:
When Rhode Island enacted legislation a few years ago prohibiting all gift cards and certificates sold in the state from including any maintenance fees or expiration dates, the word “surcharge” was not included in the law’s language and therefore not expressly prohibited.
Businesses being ever innovative, some firms dutifully abided by the prohibition on maintenance “fees,” only to replace those with a “surcharge.” Providence Place Mall gift cards, for instance, suddenly had a $2.50 surcharge added.
Sen. Christopher B. Maselli (D-Dist. 25, Johnston) tried to stop the practice last year when he introduced legislation to ban any person, firm or corporation from adding a surcharge of any kind relating to gift certificates or gift cards. The bill was held in committee for further study.
Senator Maselli is trying again this year, and for the same reason, he says, that he sponsored the bill last year. “If you sell someone a $50 gift card and you receive $50 from the purchaser, what’s the point of charging more except pure and simple greed? If you are a business and you’re losing money by selling gift cards, then stop selling them. But don’t continue to find new ways to take the consumer for more than is fair,” he said.
Got that? Customers increasingly want to purchase gift cards, probably because they provide the added value of avoiding purchases of gifts that the recipients don’t really want (saving awkwardness and time spent in returns), and Maselli would prefer that businesses cease to offer this service rather than recoup the cost of providing it. The production and distribution of the card itself, the clerk’s time spent processing its purchase, the clerk’s time spent processing its use, and all of the paperwork entailed — the store must accept these costs as a matter of charity in the name of fairness.
That a senator (a lawyer, no less) would follow this train of thought right up to the big black hole of his own cluelessness in a press release (as opposed to an off-the-cuff remark in a live interview) illustrates how freely our state’s governing class will seek to codify into law its every petulant whim. One can’t help but link these small instances of poorly considered overreaching with our state’s looming collapse. They’re like the mild symptom of a dangerous disease — markers of a pernicious political philosophy that ultimately kills its host.
Just so the point isn’t lost, though, let me state clearly that even if a store seeks to profit to a huge degree through its gift card services, it has every right to do so. Customers always have the option of negating the need for them by taking a variety of steps, from getting to know gift recipients better to taking them out shopping to simply writing checks. Of course, if this legislation passes, they may also have the option of driving to Massachusetts or Connecticut to pay the surcharge for gift certificates.