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House to Unveil New 6-Year Transit Bill

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A new, six-year transportation initiative that excludes a controversial proposal to raise the federal gasoline tax by a nickel a gallon will be unveiled in the House in about two weeks, congressional aides said Friday.

House leaders will move for quick action on the compromise bill, aides said, in an effort to ensure that Congress enacts and the President signs the measure this year. Current transportation aid programs, which have undergone only minor changes in the past 35 years, are scheduled to expire on Sept. 30.

The original House bill, which would have authorized $153.5 billion in spending over five years, stalled in early August after members balked at approving the 5-cent gas tax increase. The new bill would extend federal aid programs for six years instead of five.

The Bush Administration repeatedly had threatened to veto any transportation measure that would boost the federal gas tax, now 19 cents a gallon. The tax was increased from 14 cents only last year.

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Instead of another tax hike, the new House bill would extend until 1988 that portion--2.5 cents--of last year’s nickel gas tax increase that was dedicated to highway and mass transit spending. The other 2.5 cents was set aside to help reduce the federal budget deficit.

The Senate last summer approved a five-year, $123-billion program that did not call for any increase in the gasoline tax. The Senate bill would give states more freedom to shift aid from highway to mass transit projects, a change hailed by many urban leaders. The original House plan was more flexible than current programs, but not as flexible as the Senate proposal.

The six-year package to be introduced in the House is likely to call for spending in the range of $160 billion to $170 billion, according to congressional sources.

The decision by Rep. Robert A. Roe (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee, to abandon his campaign for a higher gas tax came after the chairman of the House tax-writing committee agreed to extend the earlier, 2.5-cent tax increase.

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Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, earlier had insisted that a portion of any new gasoline tax would have to be set aside to offset declines in corporate income-tax revenues. Those revenues drop when corporations claim higher tax deductions because of higher taxes.

But the fragile coalition that Roe had assembled to support the controversial tax hike balked at giving any of the 5 cents to Rostenkowski.

Democrats as well as Republicans insisted that their constituents would support a higher gas tax only if all the money were spent on highway, bridge and rail systems. And they argued that the earnings generated by a $153-billion spending program would more than compensate for any drop in corporate tax receipts.

Leaders of the House public works panel who had supported the tax hike said, nevertheless, that they were pleased with the agreement.

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“Transportation is too important an issue to be caught in legislative gridlock, and this agreement will help relieve the transportation gridlock,” said Rep. Norman Y. Mineta (D-San Jose), chairman of the public works subcommittee on surface transportation.


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