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Wisconsin Lawmakers Call for End of Minimum Markup on Gas

MADISON, Wis. -- Two Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin renewed a push for legislation to repeal the state's minimum markup law for gasoline, and Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle said he supports the idea.

But bills that could repeal the law are stalled in committee, the Wisconsin State Journal reports, and supporters and opponents strongly disagree over whether the legislation would help ease gasoline prices.

State Sen. Dave Zien, R-Eau Claire, and state Rep. Jeff Wood, R-Chippewa Falls, earlier this year introduced legislation to repeal the law. A committee hearing was held on one bill, but no vote was scheduled because the idea didn't have enough support to make it out of committee, Wood said.

The idea may have gotten a boost earlier this week from Doyle, however, who said he has supported repeal since he served as Dane County District Attorney.

"We're one of no more than a handful of states maintaining a law that came out of the Depression era that requires that there be an actual markup on gasoline. People will notice when they come over the border from Minnesota that there's a 10, 20, 25 percent drop. The reason is not nearly so much the tax as we have the minimum markup law,'' Doyle said.

The minimum markup law, which has been in place since the 1930s, requires gasoline wholesalers to mark up prices by at least 3 percent and retailers by at least 6 percent.

Supporters of minimum markup say it helps prevent large companies from potentially running smaller retailers out of business.

AAA Wisconsin supports repeal because the free market should regulate gasoline prices, not the government, said spokesman Michael Bie. Consumers could save about 1 to 2 cents a gallon if the law was repealed, Bie estimated.

"This is an outdated law that ensures gasoline in our state can't cost too little,'' Bie told the Journal.

Wood said he thinks consumers could save more than 4 cents a gallon and perhaps as much as 15 cents a gallon in some areas. Under current law, larger retailers are effectively forced to make a higher profit, Wood said.

But Bob Bartlett, president of the Wisconsin Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, said the minimum markup law keeps gasoline prices lower by encouraging competition that otherwise could be snuffed out.

Without the law, large ''big box'' retailers could undercut sales of smaller competitors to put them out of business, Bartlett said. The association represents about 2,000 locally owned, independent retail outlets, Bartlett said.

Current law already has a provision that allows retailers to sell below minimum markup if nearby competition warrants it, and the provision is in play in current market conditions, Bartlett said.

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