Rep. Young expects gas 'user-fee' delay

Posted: Sunday, September 14, 2003

WASHINGTON - Rep. Don Young of Alaska says he is still pushing for an increase in the national gasoline tax to support an ambitious transportation construction bill.

But he now predicts the bill containing what he calls a user fee will not be completed until early next year.

"This is a long battle. I think I'm making progress," Young, a Republican, told the Anchorage Daily News and other reporters Thursday.

Rewriting the nation's massive six-year transportation bill, which expires at the end of the month, is one of Young's chief powers as chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

Young has not yet filed his bill, which he had said he wanted to bring to the House in July, but it is already generating controversy.

He wants a $375 billion program, 60 percent larger than the last six-year bill, known as the Transportation Equity Act of the 21st Century, or TEA-21.

He has proposed raising the gas tax, now at 18.4 cents per gallon, by 2 cents, and indexing it so that it rises automatically with inflation.

His advocacy for a substantial increase in transportation spending, or investment in infrastructure, as he puts it, pits him against the White House, which has proposed a smaller bill, and his own Republican leadership, which has been adamantly opposed to raising the gas tax. Some of his fellow lawmakers say Young's proposal defies Republican ideals of smaller government and lower taxes.

Young said he will seek a five-month delay in the measure. Transportation spending will continue at the current rate for that period.

He said the public supports him because people want better highways and transportation systems.

"I may not win ... but if I don't attempt to do so, I know I won't win," he said.

Last week, some Republican House members tried to strip funding for trails, sidewalks and other amenities from the transportation appropriations bill for next year. Money for such "transportation enhancements" was a key feature of TEA-21, and Young said it would have a place in the next six-year plan.

"I've always supported the concept of trails," Young said.

"I notice ... in Anchorage, primarily, not many people walk because there's no sidewalks and it's very dangerous to, frankly, walk alongside the road," he said.

"Trails take the place of those sidewalks, so people can get off the traffic (lanes), so people can do some exercise, which I think people need to do very badly," he said.

Perhaps, he said, bicycles should be taxed to help pay for the trails.

He also floated another idea for funding transportation: a tax on miles driven. Drivers would have to report their odometer readings with their tax returns. One problem with relying on gas taxes is that when cars become more fuel-efficient, the gas tax will not reap as much but the demands on infrastructure will continue, he said.

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