The House ad hoc committee coordinating President Carter's omnibus energy bill recommended yesterday that the House vote to double the federal gasoline tax to eight cents per gallon. The vote was 22 to 18.
The proposal faces an [WORD ILLEGIBLE] fight when it is offered on the House floor as an amendment to the energy package the first week in August. Congress has refused to vote any increase in the tax except to build highways. Many members don't believe such a small increase would cut down consumption, and many consider it an emotional issue that would anger their constitutents.
The sponsors of the tax sought partly to save some gasoline and also to show that Congress is serious about saving energy. But more important, the tax would be used to raise revenues to finance mass transit and other energy-saving programs.
The four-cent permanent tax increase would take effect in two annual steps - two cents effective Oct. 1 and another two cents a year later. It would raise nearly $5 billion a year.
The money would be placed in a trust fund and divided into three accounts as follows: 1/2 cent would go to the states for transportation purposes to compensate them for expected losses in state gasoline taxes; 1 1/2 cents to encourage mass transit, car pooling and the like; and 2 cents to research and development into alternate fuel technology and to help build up the billion-barrel strategic oil reserve Carter wants.
The President had proposed a standby gasoline tax that could have increased by five-cent annual increments to 50 cents a gallon if the nation's motorists failed to meet specifield goals.
The House Ways and Means Committee recently rejected the standby tax and also a proposed three-cent-a-gallon increase in the gas tax by ratios of better than 2 to 1. Two years ago, the House rejected a three-cent increase in the gas tax by a margin of 22 votes.
Rep. Thomas L. Ashley (D-Ohio), ad hoc committee chairman who has been promoting the gas tax increase for two weeks as a means to cover some of the energy savings lost in the Ways and Means Committee's version of the energy package, said the administration had agreed to the four-cent increase, but preferred its standby tax idea and was not working for the automatic increase.
Rep. Dan Rostenkowaki (D-Ill.), who offered the four-cent gas tax proposal, said he doubted that the House was ready to approve it, but felt members should be given a chance to vote on it.
When the complex energy bill goes to the House floor, only amendments approved by Ashley's committee and a few other controversial issues, such as deregulation of natural gas, are expected to be permitted.
The energy bill already contains a tax on the wellhead price of oil which is estimated to increase the price of gasoline by about four cents per gallon. Approval of the gas tax increase recommended by the ad hoc committee would double the price increase at the pump.
Rep. John B. Anderson (R-Ill.) offered a substitute calling for a two-cent per gallon gasoline tax increase with all of it going to the states to help maintain their roads. He was rejected by a voice vote.
Rep. John E. Moss (D-Calif.) opposed the tax as a regressive sales tax that would hurt the poor most. Members from the West and South also complained that the tax would hit hardest people in those area who must drive along distances to work.
Rep. Joseph L. Fisher (D-Va.) urged approval of the four-cent tax increase, saying it "would hit people where they live" and make them directly aware of the energy shortage.