Daily Archives: November 9, 2015

The unbelievably coincident gas price roller coaster

This morning’s Burlington Free Press reports a development in the courts: attorneys for Chittenden County gas wholesalers have filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging price-fixing in the market, which is dominated by a handful of outfits. Former US Attorney Tris Coffin, having traded in his white hat for a shiny black Downs Rachlin Martin number, is now spearheading the gas cartel’s defense.

Sorry, make that “the alleged gas cartel.”

This news brought to mind the latest pair of coincidences in the long and suspicious history of gas prices in the Burlington area. This past July, when the suit was freshly filed, I noted a rare happenstance: gas was actually cheaper in Burlington than in Montpelier by as much as 15 cents per gallon. This reversed the usual state of affairs, in which Burlington-area stations routinely offer some of the highest prices in the state.

At the time, I connected the obvious dots: bad publicity triggers a temporary drop in prices at the pump. Or as I put it:

For years, Bernie Sanders has been alleging price fixing by the four companies that own most of Chittenden County’s gas stations. The companies have consistently denied any collusion — although, it must be noted, they usually bring down their prices for a while after Bernie kicks up a fuss. And then quietly goose them back up once the heat’s off.

Well, it’s happened again. The suit’s been out of the headlines for a few months, and whaddya know, the vast majority of Burlington-area gas stations are charging 10-15 cents more per gallon than their Montpelier counterparts.

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The Phil Scott conundrum

Two truisms at war:

1. Vermont faces big challenges, and Vermonters are hungry for a new direction.

2. Phil Scott is the apparent front-runner for governor.

Does anybody else see anything wrong with this picture?

Just about everyone agrees that we face a bunch of big problems. Some solutions are in process, more or less successfully (Lake Champlain, school reorganization, health care reform) and others lie squarely in front of us (the annual budget gap, an outmoded tax system, soaring Medicaid costs, bad demographics, wage stagnation).

Vermont Republicans offer an apocalyptic vision of a Vermont bankrupted by Democratic mismanagement and prodigality. Democrats and Progressives acknowledge a long list of challenges we face.

And yet Phil Scott, a man who’s made his political bones by being inoffensive, and whose “platform” so far is about as radical as a bowl of oatmeal, looks to be leading the field. And those Republicans, who view Vermont as teetering on the brink of disaster and in need of far-reaching, fundamental change, would be perfectly happy to elect good ol’ Phil.

Er, that’s the same Phil Scott who happily served in Governor Shumlin’s cabinet and worked with the administration on a variety of issues. At least, he happily did so until he got the gubernatorial itch himself, and started distancing himself from the incumbent.

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