HONOLULU -- In Hawaii, where motorists have long complained about the high cost of gasoline, the nation's first cap on pump prices is just a few months away.
Or maybe not: State lawmakers may delay the July 1 effective date by making changes to the law they approved in 2002. Some legislators say they want to address concerns about the law, which critics say actually could have driven prices higher had it been in effect last year.
It is uncertain how long revisions could delay a cap; one proposal would put it off for at least a year. But to many frustrated consumers, some kind of control is long overdue.
"Whatever they feel they've got to take us for, they do," said Hans Hussey, 34. "We've got to pay it. It's not like we can go to the next state."
The American Automobile Association reported yesterday the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas in Honolulu was $2.04. On the Big Island it was $2.12 per gallon, and on Maui $2.37. The national average reached a record $1.80 a gallon Friday, according to the Lundberg Survey of 8,000 gas stations.
The law, as it stands now, will mandate a maximum pretax price for gasoline sold at wholesale and retail levels. The cap is tied to a weekly average of prices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and the Pacific Northwest.
Supporters of the law argue the oil companies have kept prices artificially high for years. They cite a state attorney general's office report from the late 1990s that showed Chevron Corp. made about 23 percent of its profits in Hawaii, which accounts for 3 percent of its market.
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Opponents of the cap say Hawaii's isolation, high taxes, and other barriers to competition are what is driving up the cost of gasoline, not industry greed. The Legislature's Republican minority tried unsuccessfully last week to repeal the cap altogether. Republican Governor Linda Lingle opposes the price cap but has not said whether she would block regulations. The law allows her to suspend the cap if it is shown to cause hardship.