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CORNER GAS STATIONS BATTLE IT OUT AT PUMPS

THE BALTIMORE SUN

War flared briefly again at Jumpers Hole Road and Ritchie Highway last week. In a few hours of madness, Shell fought back with everything it had.

It was crazy. Imagine, dropping the price of regular unleaded to $1.079 -- 7 cents below cost and 2 cents below the price then being charged by the Exxon station diagonally across Ritchie Highway.

"Just clowning around," said Shawn Kingston, the owner of the Shell station, explaining the drastic price cut. He smiled and looked across Ritchie Highway at the enemy camp, Exxon, which in December declared a price war on the four corners where Exxon, Shell, Amoco and Chevron outlets compete.

Kingston had dropped his price to $1.099 that morning, undercutting the Exxon station by 2 cents. The Exxon matched it. That's when Kingston went nuts, ate his losses and dropped the price to $1.079.

He held it there for a day and a half. In that time, Kingston said, he sold about 8,500 gallons, more than twice the normal amount. People were stopping for two, three dollars' worth, Kingston said.

"I didn't understand where they were coming from," he said. He then raised the price to $1.159, while the Exxon station remained at $1.099.

"It wouldn't work in the long run," Kingston said. The price war, he said, is "not prudent business."

It was the most recent skirmish in a war declared when the Exxon station droppedits price for regular unleaded to $1.179 in December. Manager Jim Dean said in a published report at the time that he aimed to crush the competition on the busy corner.

The station's bookkeeper, who would not give her name, said the station "de-identified" its 87 and 89 octane pumps Friday. In gas station lingo, that means the station is taking the Exxon name off those grades and buying the least expensive brands it can find. Dean's bellicose comments aside, the bookkeeper said the move to less expensive brands is aimed at keeping the station afloat.

"The only way he can meet his bills is to drop his price," she said.

James Sprinkle, the Exxon attendant on duty yesterday afternoon, seemed alarmed at the thought of more press coverage. He said he's been running as fast as he can since the two grades were de-identified.

At the Chevron station, where unleaded regular goes for $1.139, the manager's wife, who also would not give her name, said the station is not getting mixed up in the price war. She said the Exxon outlet's moves hurt business a bit at first; then it picked up again.

"We're not in competition with Exxon because our customers know our gas station," she said.

Amoco sells unleaded regular for $1.149. No one there would comment on the four-corner price competition.

As far as Kingston is concerned, the war is over. Asked if the Exxon station's moves hurt his business, he answered emphatically, "Naaah. We're back to what we were doing before."

SOURCE: Arthur Hirsch

IN THIS CORNER IS CLERK ROSE, AND IN THAT CORNER . . .

When Clerk of Circuit Court Mary M. Rose told me she would "debate" Delegate Charles W. "Stokes" Kolodziejski on his proposal to abolish clerk of court as an elected office, I thought she was only half-serious.

Tome, "debate" meant a formal intellectual skirmish, a la Lincoln-Douglass, Kennedy-Nixon, Bentsen-Quayle. Set up a podium, invite an audience. Make it an event. Surely, this wasn't what Rose, who had weathered some bad press over her decision to fire three longtime courthouse employees, had in mind.

But she made her position clear the following day, with a three-page news release formally challenging the Democrat from Carvel Beach to "a series of public debates." In the release, Rose asserted, "The roots of American democracy are in local government, and local government is closest to the people. . . . Maryland's democratic reform movement during the nineteenth century focused on securing both the independence and popular accountability of the Office of Clerk, the official entrusted with the people's most important records."

Hmmm. This sounded important.

Rose threw down the challenge for "multiple debates with Delegate Kolodziejski at forums all over Anne Arundel County."

The news release ended with a swagger: "Carvel Beach would be a great place to start. Stokes can name the time and place. I will be there."

Oooooo. Tough talk. Great stuff.

Therefore, you can imagine my disappointment when Rose told me there likely would be no debate. She said yesterday that the delegate told her last Friday the timing was not right for him to submit his bill. Rose said she, too, was disappointed, but she said her challenge was open-ended. "I will debate whoever, whenever someone wants to introduce it," she vowed.

Well, Kolodziejski said later yesterday that the issue is, in fact, not dead for this year. He said he decided to file his bill after talking to Rose last Friday; he said colleagues had eased his concern about whether such a bill, which would require the state constitution to be amended, should be filed in a non-presidential election year.

Or something like that. It's a matter of General Assembly etiquette, which is of no concern at all for us serious debate fans. The important thing was that there again was a possibility of this debate taking place. Right?

Wrong. Kolodziejski said he sees no reason to meet Rose in a debate, that anything she has tosay she can say at a hearing on the bill.

"I've never heard of a debate on a bill in my life," the courageous delegate asserted in a telephone interview yesterday. "I didn't think this is such a major bill that it would warrant debate on the TV or radio. It just seemed like she was looking for a little extra publicity."

There you have it. In summary, Rose challenged Kolodziejski to put up his dukes, one-on-one, and the delegate said he would fight her only in a committee hearing room -- with his friends to back him up if the going gets toougly.

I, therefore, am calling on Kolodziejski to come out and fight. And I encourage all of his friends, neighbors, colleagues and acquaintances to do the same. Otherwise, the whispers could start.

Chicken. Chicken.

SOURCE: Jay Apperson

SPARKS FLY WHEN HUFF SEES THE 'UNGUZZLERS'

They're out there, Ray Huff insists, and they're getting a free ride -- the unguzzlers.

He's right, too. Why just the other day, I swear one of those unpatriotic electric suckers whined past me at the intersection of Mountain and Solley roads. And there wasn't a trace of exhaust to even mark his passing. The unguzzler was gone before I could say "OPEC."

In fact, he was gone so fast, I could barely tell if this un-American, unpatriotic unguzzler was poweredby the sun, by an overnight hook-up with household current or maybe even natural gas. Whatever, he damn sure was not stopping at the nearest service station to top off the tank.

So here's the rub. I bought my gasoline. I even paid big bucks for what they used to call "high test," because Consumer Reports said high octane is a bargain in the long run. I paid my American dues, bub.

I paid my taxes on that gasoline to the tune of 18-cents-a-gallon, all of which goes to the state highway trust fund or some such bank account in Annapolis and they use the money to maintain the roads we all drive on in the great state of Muryland. I did my share.

But not that unguzzler. Nooooo, he got off scot-free, never paid a nickel. He was out there whining along without polluting the air, sitting behind his little electric washing machine motor, smugly thinking he could cheat the great state of Maryland out of it's gasoline tax. He figured he'd keep on getting a free ride on state roads with his little tin car.

But not to worry. Pasadena Delegate Huff (that's Huff, not Puff) has got the solution. He's got the cheaters in his sights and the unguzzlers are not about to get off so easily any more.

Huff, who had a previous brush with destiny as the savior of Chesapeake Bay lighthouses -- we know this because he gave out these nifty little refrigerator magnet lighthouses during his re-election campaign last fall -- is back before theGeneral Assembly with a bill that would tax the unguzzlers for their fair share.

That's right, Huff has introduced for the second straight year a proposal to create a nine-member commission, the Commission to Study Road Construction Funding.

These commissioners, Huff told unimpressed lawmakers last year, would look at a bunch of plans for generating state road money, including making drivers, unguzzlers and guzzlers alike, pay tolls on some Maryland byways.

But the patriots among us know the real focus of the Huff bill is to nail those wimpy little unguzzlers.

It's about fairness, it's about equity, it's about everybody shouldering the burden of highway construction --it's about America, or at least the little chunk of USA we all call Maryland.

Unguzzlers, your time has come, and the rest of us have Ray Huff to thank for it.

SOURCE: Chris Guy

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