The Earle family of Fairfax County is already changing its lifestyle to save money on gas. Woodrow Earle, who drives a truck for a Woodbridge company, now often car-pools with a co-worker on the daily 56-mile round trip to work.
His wife, who commutes 34 miles, is also riding with a friend. The couple's two teenage sons -- one travels 50 miles round-trip each day to school and work, the other drives about 25 miles a day to school and "just around" -- are also going to get hit: Dad is about to put them back on the school bus.
"These prices are already hitting us hard," Earle said yesterday as he pondered the federal budget proposal to raise the gasoline tax. "I'm already paying more than $200 a month in gas for me and my wife. The idea of paying 12 cents a gallon more for gasoline is awful. We have to make some changes."
While families across the region began worrying yesterday about the impact of the budget proposals, officials in the District, Maryland and Virginia pored over their spending plans to calculate additional costs they would have to bear.
In Virginia, officials criticized the five-year, $500 billion deficit-reduction budget proposal, saying it would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars and hit poor and elderly residents the hardest.
A proposed requirement for local and state governments to expand Social Security and Medicare coverage to employees such as police officers and firefighters who are not now covered by the federal system would cost $28 million in the next five years, officials said.
In the District, the budget proposal is not expected to have any major effect on government operations, according to Robert Pohlman, deputy mayor for finance. The city is still awaiting receipt of its annual federal payment, pending final approval of the D.C. appropriations bill, expected later this month.
In Maryland, relieved state officials said the proposal would not add much strain to an already-shaky state budget, unlike the alternative automatic spending cuts and temporary furloughs of federal workers, which Gov. William Donald Schaefer said would have devastated Maryland.
"On balance, this package is much better than we anticipated," said Monica Healy, director of the governor's Washington office.
Healy said Maryland could be forced to contribute $4 million to $5 million more annually to Medicare payroll taxes for State Police and an undetermined additional amount of Medicare costs for high-earning state employees.
Proposed tax increases on gasoline, tobacco and alcohol also could result in a loss of revenue by lowering consumption, state officials said. The National Association of State Budget Officers estimates the budget package would cost Virginia $114 million and Maryland $74 million in gasoline revenue in the next five years.
For the typical family, the changes could be painful. The budget plan would bring an increase in taxes on cigarettes, gasoline, beer and table wine, add a 10 percent surcharge to luxury items and decrease some itemized deductions for taxpayers with incomes higher than $100,000.
For an area where an estimated 1.4 million motorists commute to work, the greatest outrage is directed at the gasoline tax.
"When they add that tax is when I get bulletproof glass," said Lee Barrett, 19, a cashier at a Mobil service station in Woodbridge. "People are already frustrated because prices are going up. They are buying less gas and cheaper gas, and a lot of them come in here talking about taking public transportation."
Since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait about two months ago, gasoline prices have risen by more than 25 cents a gallon in some areas. Metro officials said they have not noticed a change in ridership, other than an increase from the opening of the two new Red Line stations in Montgomery County. The regional rail and bus system carries about a million people a day.
But Stephen Rowland, senior transit planner for Prince William County, said 200 more people a day are getting on buses taking workers to the Pentagon and the District. If gasoline costs continue to soar, he said, the county might be forced to increase the $25 and $28 weekly rates.
Jessie Hazelwood, a construction worker who drives 140 miles round-trip from Dumfries to projects in Maryland and central Virginia, already is paying more. Hazelwood's weekly gasoline tab has been about $80 since the prices started rising, his wife, Ethel, said. Before that, he paid about $60 a week.
The potential higher cost of smoking and drinking brought mixed reviews.
In Ellicott City, Rite-Aid pharmacy clerk Pat Busick said she is getting the same comments from cigarette-buying customers that she always gets when there is a price increase. "Every time, they say they'd better quit because they can't afford it," she said.
Bernie Hale, of Haymarket, who stopped by a Fairfax City liquor store yesterday on his way home, said of the proposed liquor tax: "That's a luxury item. I feel people who can afford to drink can afford higher taxes" rather than have new taxes passed on to "people earning $10,000. You don't have to drink. You have to eat."
Said Al Monch, an electrician from Arlington: "They've got to tax someone, and between cigarettes, liquor and gas, they'll catch just about everyone."
Staff writers Michael Abramowitz, Jo-Ann Armao, Stephen C. Fehr, Claudia Levy, David Lindsey, Jane Seaberry, Richard Tapscott and Michael Ybarra contributed to this report.