Thursday, October 07, 2004
On this day:

Three Indicted for Price-Gouging in Baldwin County

A Baldwin County grand jury has indicted three people on price-gouging charges. Two of the three turned themselves in today. Their offenses? One electrical contractor from Gadsden was charging $200/hr for repairing damage to electrical wires at private residences. The average price before the hurricane was about $60/hr. Two tree-removal contractors from Baldwin County are accused of quoting prices to homeowners of up to 300 percent more than average prices prior to the hurricane. After paying $4700 to have a huge oak tree removed from his house, one gouging victim said of the unscrupulous contractor, "He was the only one I could find who would take the job. He kind of had me."

And, it's sad to say, but people who will "take the job" will continue to become harder and harder to find in Baldwin County. Alabama Attorney General Troy King has a team of 23 investigators in the area looking into about 400 price-gouging complaints. The Attorney General said, "We told people down here we were not going to tolerate profiteering off this tragedy. Those were not idle threats."

Alabama law defines price-gouging as charging 25 percent more than the average cost had been in the 30 days prior to the emergency. It also applies to the mere quoting of such "unconscionable" prices. Investigators are finding a challenge in determining exactly what "average prices" had been prior to Ivan's arrival. "It's not an exact science," according to the Attorney General.

All the more reason for politicians to mind their own business instead of grandstanding on courthouse doorsteps. The state's enforcement actions are discouraging goods and services from being delivered to the areas where they are needed most. To remedy this situation, prices should be allowed to settle at what the market will bear, and Alabama's price-gouging statute should be repealed.