Monday, April 9, 2012

The Price of Gasoline and Indiana's Attorney General

The idea of suspending Indiana's sales tax on gasoline has reared its head again.  Democratic candidate for governor John Gregg has floated the idea.  It's not clear whether Gregg would submit the proposal to the legislature or go the Gov. Frank O"Bannon route of doing it by executive order.  Gov. O"Bannon was roundly criticized for taking the action in the midst of the 2000 campaign.  Since that move, Attorney Generals Steve Carter and Greg Zoeller have opined that the Governor lacks the authority to suspend the state sales tax on gasoline by executive fiat.
Attorney General Greg Zoeller

I think that's probably correct.  However, my issue with Carter and now Zoeller is their hypocrisy in interpreting the law.  Whenever gasoline prices would suddenly soar, Carter and Zoeller would be in front of a camera vowing to "investigate price gouging" in gasoline sales.  Neither of them had the legal authority to conduct such an investigation.  Under IC 4-6-9.1-3 the Attorney General is entitled:

1) to investigate complaints received claiming price gouging.
2) to seek injunctive relief as appropriate.
3) to seek restitution for victims of price gouging.
4) to institute an action to levy and collect a penalty.
But that authority is only triggered when there is an "emergency" declared by the governor. See IC 4-6-9.1-1.   Both Carter and Zoeller conducted gasoline "price gouging" investigations, not because they had the legal authority to do so, but because they wanted to get headlines.

So when Attorney General Greg Zoeller gives his opinion of the law, one has to understand that it is not coming from an objective perspective, but rather one colored by political calculations. That is a shame. There was a day when Attorney General's took their role of providing advisory opinions on Indiana law seriously and approached it in an unbiased manner.  No longer.


Kyra said...

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Harry Matthews said...

Conducting research on gasoline prices is the job of people involved in trade and commerce. It is not a DA's job to interpret whatever is shown in the market. A class action lawyer should care less in finance, so to speak.