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STATE DELETES GIFT CARD PROPOSAL FROM BUDGET

What was left out of the state budget is making many retailers happy.

The state Senate had originally proposed that retailers turn over any money left on gift cards after three years of inactivity. The proposal also called for abolishing fees and expiration dates on all gift cards and gift certificates sold in the state.

Retailers called it a money grab by New York and balked at having to collect and maintain records showing the name and state of the buyer.

The Retail Council of New York State said the measure was not included in the final version of the budget bill passed last week because of conversations it had on behalf of its members.

"We had a lot of constructive meetings with members on both sides of the aisle and in both houses in a very short period of time," said Ted Potrikus, the state retail council's executive vice president and director of government relations. "We're very pleased that they took the time to listen to our concerns and reconsidered the language for this particular part of the massive budget puzzle."

If the bill had passed, consumers could have gotten their money back from the state by completing paperwork and showing proof of purchase. While the state would earn interest on the money, it would never become property of the state, according to the state comptroller's office, which supported the legislation.

Mark Hansen, spokesman for the state Senate, said he didn't know why the measure was dropped. "There are a lot of things that don't make it into the final version of the budget and this was one of them."

Consumers spent an estimated $55 billion on gift cards last year, a 22 percent increase from 2003, according to the TowerGroup international, a MasterCard division. Roughly 10 percent of cards, or more than $5 billion, are never redeemed, according to ACS Unclaimed Property Clearinghouse.

At least four other states -- California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire -- have laws similar to what the New York State Senate proposed.

e-mail: lhaarlander@buffnews.com