- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2003

A freshman Republican congresswoman said yesterday that House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young tried to intimidate her because she is a leading opponent of an increase in the federal gas tax.

Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, Colorado Republican, said Mr. Young, Alaska Republican, stood a step above her on the floor of the House Monday night and with aggressive gestures and words attempted to exert his influence on her.

“I’ve been married for a long time and my husband’s a gentleman,” Mrs. Musgrave said. “And I have never had a man talk to me like Mr. Young did.

“I wouldn’t say he threatened me. I’d say he tried to intimidate me. It’s just causing me to dig in my heels.”

Steve Hanson, communications director for Mr. Young, didn’t dispute Mrs. Musgrave’s account, but said the subject of the heated exchange actually was over the freshman congresswoman’s request for road-project financing.

“It was a member-to-member discussion about her private requests for over a billion dollars in highway projects [in her district] and her public position against raising revenue for highways,” Mr. Hanson said.

Mr. Hanson pointed out that Mr. Young has received 5,300 requests from members about transportation projects in their districts in the past year.

As for the gas tax, Mr. Hanson said, Mr. Young’s proposal to index the 18.4-cent federal gas tax to inflation is necessary.

Since the gas tax was last set in 1993, inflation has decreased its real value, and we continue “to fall farther behind as far as funding transportation programs,” Mr. Hanson said.

Joining Mrs. Musgrave in opposition to Mr. Young’s proposal to index the tax — which would result in an immediate 5-cent increase — is House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, a growing coalition of House conservatives and the White House.

One Capitol Hill staffer joked that Mrs. Musgrave is being used as a “human shield” against the powerful Transportation Committee chairman. Mrs. Musgrave’s Chief of Staff Guy Short didn’t dispute that.

“Well, she’s not a lifer here,” said Mr. Short. “She’s going to try to make a difference for the taxpayers” in her district.

The House Transportation Committee will begin working on this issue after the Memorial Day recess, with the hopes of drafting a bill on the gas tax by early July.

Mr. DeLay yesterday said transportation projects could be funded if the transportation bill contained less pork, fraud and waste.

“You can get there without raising taxes on the American people,” Mr. DeLay said. “We understand the need for increased spending on highways. [We should] be responsible and look into the federal highway system, find inefficiencies and streamline the process.”

More than two dozen congressmen have announced public opposition to an increase in the gas tax, and representatives from 19 lobbying and public-interest organizations joined Mrs. Musgrave at a press conference yesterday.

State taxes on gasoline now average just over 22 cents a gallon, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Combined with the federal levy, gas taxes cost the average family $660 a year, according to Americans for Tax Reform.

Rep. Sue Myrick, North Carolina Republican and chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, said millions of dollars raised by the federal gas tax each year is wasted on side projects such as bicycle and horse trails, streetscape improvements, and transportation museums.

“This is taking tax money from my district, bringing it to Washington, and doling it out by favor and formula,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican.

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Maryland Republican, said there would be more money to improve current roads and build new ones if some of the revenue raised by the gas tax didn’t go to mass-transit projects.

“The gas tax is the wrong place to get money for mass transit,” Mr. Bartlett said, adding that he supports mass transit, but “this is just the wrong pot of money to get it from.”

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