The proposed highway and transit repair program to be financed by a 5-cent-a-gallon hike in the gasoline tax ran into a hornet's nest of opposition yesterday ranging from the trucking lobby to the Environmental Policy Center, although key House leaders remained confident the measure will pass.
On some of the critical hurdles -- the requirement that states pay a share of the cost, and mass-transit funding -- the administration moved quickly to quiet the opposition. However, other questions remain, signaling that the bill -- backed by the administration and both the House and Senate leadership -- faces a tougher battle than expected.
As the House Ways and Means Committee took up the measure yesterday, these developments and controversies indicated the scope of the complex issues to be resolved before Congress' scheduled adjournment on Dec. 17:
* At a private session of California House Democrats, both liberals and moderates voiced concern that the $5.5 billion bill will produce only 320,000 jobs, that the jobs will not be created quickly enough and that the state may be unable to finance its share of the cost.
* The trucking industry voiced strong opposition to an increase in levies it claims would raise the annual taxes paid by an 18-wheeler from about $1,750 to nearly $5,000. The administration has offered sweeteners to make the tax increase palatable -- permitting wider and longer trucks on the roads -- but the industry contends that the changes are inadequate.
* The Environmental Policy Center charged that the legislation is being used by the administration to achieve "hidden agendas" other than road, bridge and transit repairs. The group noted that the legislation increases new highway construction by $700 million in 1984, rising to $1.4 billion in 1986 and 1987. It said this money will be used to finance some of the most expensive and controversial segments of the interstate system.
Alan Boyd, chairman of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said the bill is a "blatant attempt by . . . the administration to weaken laws and regulations protecting historic properties."
At the same time, the administration moved to quiet opposition that had been surfacing from other quarters. In testimony to the Ways and Means Committee, Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis said the administration is looking at ways to allow states to defer their share of program costs to ensure that all states can participate.
In addition, Lewis said he was willing to abandon a section of the administration bill that would eliminate the tax on new tires for cars while increasing the levy on all retreads, which are used mainly by the trucking industry.
In an effort to ensure support from the Texas delegation, Lewis agreed to allow money raised by the tax to be used for new subway systems, which Houston needs, according to aides to Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.).
In other action, the House approved a $85.4 billion appropriations bill for health, education and employment programs. The measure includes $5.3 billion more than President Reagan wants for the programs in the current fiscal year.
The measure, the largest of the domestic money bills, was approved 330 to 70 after leaders of both parties gave assurances that it will be within congressional budget limits even after supplemental appropriations are approved later for programs that were underfinanced in the bill.