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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 5, 2003

Menor right to refine gasoline price caps

One reason critics give for opposing proposed gasoline price caps in Hawai'i is that they would intensify the reputation the state already has for being anti-business. But businesses in Hawai'i, like everyone else, pay very high prices for gasoline, and have been for many years.

What could be more anti-business than that?

Thus we're pleased to see Sen. Ron Menor attempting to tweak the new price-cap law to make it more effective when it goes into effect in July.

There's no doubt at all that the local "market" alone is not enough to set reasonable prices on gasoline, as conclusively demonstrated by testimony emerging from the antitrust lawsuit by the state against Hawai'i wholesalers, settled last year. Hawai'i wholesalers set prices high enough to make themselves among the highest profits in the nation because there's nothing to impede them.

You can believe what Hawai'i oil company officials admitted under oath, or you can believe a report commissioned by the governor's office from Stillwater and Associates that says oil industry profits are not excessive, that gasoline price caps would lead to higher prices and that the price-cap law should be repealed.

The Lingle administration, which opposes the price cap law, paid $250,000 for the Stillwater report, which simply ignores the damning testimony in the antitrust lawsuit.

In a related dispute, when two college professors alleged that ChevronTexaco had evaded a little more than a half-billion dollars in state taxes, the state's lawyers produced a report — which the public isn't allowed to see — that "exonerated" the oil company.

If Menor and his colleagues need any further incentive to pursue gasoline price caps, it might be the words of a Chevron spokesman, who last year said proposals to cap the price of gasoline in Hawai'i provide "one more example of the deteriorating business climate in Hawai'i, and another reason why companies will not risk investing in Hawai'i."

That argument about too much government won't fly, even when it comes from the governor. What the gasoline antitrust lawsuit demonstrated was that the gasoline market here is so profitable that Mainland businesses obviously would give their eyeteeth to get into it, if they could.