WHILE THE LEGISLATURES in Maryland, Virginia and other states are wrestling with gasoline and other taxes to pick up the tab for their road and transit costs, the Reagan administration is taking a fresh look at federal gasoline tax increases for the same urgent reasons. As Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis noted in an address last Monday at a meeting of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, gasoline taxes are simply user fees, which "make sense in transportation."
According to Mr. Lewis, the user fee concept is to be considered by the Cabinet Council on Economic Affairs. "User fees are totally consistent with the direction of this administration," he said, citing aviation and the inland waterways as examples. The question now is whether the gasoline "user fee" will win final approval from President Reagan.
There is no question that transportation needs more money--and that there is not enough in the highway program to do the job. Not only has Secretary Lewis recognized this, but he is making an important recommendation: to provide that a portion of the fees be used for mass transit capital costs. This would be a sensible federal response to the balanced transportation approach that states are taking or considering.
More and more, the highway and mass transit supporters are realizing that their interests are interdependent--and that there is little financial or political capital in the old highway-transit wars for federal or state revenues. Both forms of transportation need assistance, and "user fees" in the form of gasoline taxes constitute a sound approach that deserves congressional as well as White House support.