"The bureaucrat's basic instinct is to raise taxes," Ronald Reagan would say when he was running for president. After he won the job, Reagan tried to stock the bureaucracy with appointees who had different impulses. But the Reaganauts have been on the job a year, and that basic instinct is starting to surface again. Consider, for example, what Federal Highway Administrator Ray A. Barnhart said this week when he heard that U.S. gasoline usage declined during the first nine months of 1981:

"The good news is that . . . motorists used 78.1 billion gallons of gasoline, as compared with 79.9 billion gallons for the same period in 1980." But there's a little problem, Barnhart's statement added: "The news on gasoline consumption is tempered by the knowledge that gasoline tax receipts will decline . . . . " Much of Barnhart's federal fiefdom, of course, is funded by the federal gasoline tax. So he added the helpful advice that this drop in gas tax revenues could be avoided if "tax rates are adjusted to compensate." In plain English, he's pumping for the 4-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase the administration may propose soon.

That drop in gasoline consumption, by the way, occurred despite the fact that the number of miles driven increased during the first nine months of 1980, the first time in three years that Americans drove more than they had the year before.