The White House is considering a variety of new taxes on oil companies or consumers to raise roughly $5 billion for mass transit projects, research and development on a fuel-saving automobile and other transportation needs.
Transportation Secretary Brock Adams first outlined the proposal in a memorandum to President Carter, then briefed the president and other Cabinet members at a meeting Monday at Camp David, Md.
Adams' memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, outlines five specific tax proposals. Each would raise about $5 billion annually for the transportation trust fund.
Presidential press secretary Jody Powell cautioned against jumping to conclusions, but said, "Any proposals from the secretary of transportation are receiving serious consideration."
In 1977, when the Carter administration put together its first energy package, Adams was all but shut out. He proposed a mass transit trust fund, an idea that was repudiated by the White House and overwhelmingly defeated in the house.
Adams later called that his "greatest mistake" and vowed that he would not be eliminated from national energy policymaking again.
Adams said his proposals this year were "well-received, but I don't know what's on the president's mind."
Before they go public, administration officials are trying to decide what would be acceptable to Congress.
"Everyone expects the price of gasoline at the pump to rise substantially during the next year," Adams wrote in his memo. "I believe that a portion of that increase should be reserved by the government in the form of a tax and committed to preserving the mobility of the American people."
Adams has talked often of a "mobility crisis" that would accompany a severe energy shortage. A tax on petroleum to ease that crisis, he said, is justified for four reasons:
There is a tradition of gasoline tax funding for federal and state highway programs.
Transportation accounts for 52 percent of oil consumption in the United States and "is therefore half the problem."
"There is a direct relationship between the price and supply of oil and personal mobility.
"Price rises in the absence of government action would feed public suspicion over the need to take serious and real steps to preserve our mobility."
Adams said in an interview that a 5 to 10 percent cut in automobile usage in urban areas would "overwhelm" existing public transit systems. The Carter administration has been consistently accused by the transit community of underfunding its needs.
More money for transit, Adams said, would permit cities such as Los Angeles, Detroit and New York, and northern New Jersey to accelerate long-planned transit projects. Many other cities could expand their bus fleets, he said.
Adams has been leaning hard on the auto industry to "reinvent the automobile" and make it more efficient. A tax-supported fund could be used for government-industry research, with the money channeled through universities, he said.
If the nation's energy future includes a dramatic increase in coal consumption, Adams said, "the transportation of that commodity to market requires concerted attention... The condition of coal haul roads in the South and rail crossings in the West are issues that must be addressed."
Adams' five tax proposals included a $1.75-per-barrel import tax on crude oil; a $4.50-per-barrel tax on "lower tier" domestic oil priced at $5.60 at the wellhead; a $1.90-per-barrel value-added tax on gasoline only; a 75-cent-per-barrel value-added tax on all petroleum products used in the United States, and a 5-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline at the pump. Only one of those five taxes would be adopted under Adams' proposal.
Admas estimated that if such a program were adopted in fiscal 1980, it would reduce the federal deficit by $3 billion.