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House transit bill includes tax increase


WASHINGTON -- House leaders are readying a transportation bill that would cost nearly 50 percent more than President Bush has proposed and plan to pay for it with a 5-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax increase.

The House bill would dedicate a minimum of $6.7 billion a year to mass transit -- twice as much as Mr. Bush wants to spend -- as part of an effort to shift the federal highway program away from its current interstate orientation and toward

congested urban areas.

The five-year, $153 billion proposal, to be introduced in about two weeks, was described yesterday by Representative Norman Mineta, D-Calif., one of its authors.

In its particulars, the House bill is similar to the Senate transportation package that was approved last week, although the Senate bill totals $123 billion and includes no tax increase. But it differs greatly from the president's $105 billion plan, giving state and local officials more leeway.

The House plan, for example, would allow states to spend more than half their total highway dollars for mass transit if certain conditions were met.

"Think of the drivers who are sitting outside in gridlock," Mr. Mineta said yesterday. "They know something's wrong with the way we decide how to spend our money now."

The legislation is expected to spark both philosophical debates about the federal government's responsibility to harried urban commuters and bitter turf battles over which states win and lose.

It is also likely to touch off a furious controversy over taxes. Congress bumped the federal gas tax up a nickel just last year, as part of its deficit-reduction plan. Yet Mr. Mineta and House Public Works Committee Chairman Robert A. Roe, D-N.J., have won the support of House Speaker Thomas S. Foley of Washington for the additional increase.

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