WASHINGTON - The gas tax debate has died down - for now. Rental and construction industry associations are relieved. Gas tax proponents are incensed. The masses are, well, probably not paying much attention.
Consumers were fed up with ballooning-by-the-minute gas prices, in some areas barreling at more than $2 a gallon. But besides complaining, the majority of motorists didn't bother cutting back on gas usage.
Both the House and Senate attempted to cut back on gas prices by clamoring for a temporary repeal of the 4.3 cents gas tax, depending on pump prices. But last April, the Senate voted 66 to 34 against a bill that would have suspended all or part of the federal motor fuels tax from April 15 to Dec. 31, 2000.
Proponents of the bill were confident it would fly, saying it would benefit motorists who felt ripped off each time they pumped gas. In some areas of California, where gas prices are highest in the nation, prices topped off at almost $2 a gallon for self-serve unleaded gas. But ironically, even some proponents of the bill acknowledged that repealing the gas tax would, at best, provide motorists only modest relief.
Critics of the bill claimed it would have jeopardized more than $6 billion in highway and road programs. Industry associations, such as the Associated Equipment Distributors and Construction Industry Manufacturers Association, rallied their members to urge Congress to kill the bill.
"We can't afford to take a holiday from the urgent need to repair our crumbling roads and bridges, and this bill threatens the funding that is dedicated to that purpose," said CIMA president Dennis Slater.
Would a suspension of all or part of the gas tax really make a dent to those in rents? Probably not, if you consider that most highway and road infrastructure project builders, typically commissioned by local governments, often own their equipment.
So was the fuss all hot air? Many say the gas tax debate was fueled purely by politics. Others claim the effort could have provided long-term relief from sky-high gas prices. But whatever the reason, the issue certainly has fallen on deaf ears once again.