Remarks to Reporters Announcing the Administration's Proposal for a Highway and Bridge Repair Program

November 23, 1982

The President. Happy Thanksgiving -- that's really what I came in to say.

We've just completed a meeting of the Cabinet, and I wanted to tell you that, after weighing all the considerations, I have decided that we should move forward now with a program to repair the Nation's major highways and bridges.

During the next few days, we expect to work out many of the details of this proposal. And I will consult further with Members of Congress before submitting it for consideration during the lameduck session.

From our early soundings, it appears that this measure will command broad bipartisan support. I'm reviewing this proposal along with a series of other measures that would help to give our economy a fresh boost as we head into 1983. It's my hope that this package can be high on the agenda when the Congress returns to Washington next week.

And, now, let me return for a moment to the proposal that Secretary Drew Lewis has spent so many months developing.

As you know, this measure would mean an increase in highway user fee, or gas tax, of 5 cents a gallon. For the average motorist, that's estimated to -- that additional cost would amount to some $30 a year. But we wouldn't be considering such costs unless our needs were both large and pressing.

An estimated 10 percent of our Interstate Highway System -- portions of which are more than 20 years old -- need immediate resurfacing. We have 23,000 bridges in need of replacement or rehabilitation; 40 percent of our bridges are over 40 years old. Moreover, our cities face capital transit costs of some $50 billion as many buses and urban railcars need to be replaced or upgraded.

Our country's outstanding highway system was built on the user fee principle -- that those who benefit from a use should share in its cost. It is appropriate that we rely on this same concept now. America has been blessed over the years with excellent transportation, and this program would provide us with a means of protecting and preserving this system.

Now, the Secretary is here, Drew Lewis. And he's going to take whatever questions you may have on the details of this, and where we stand with it.

Q. Mr. President, what about a decision on accelerating the tax cut? We understand that you're leaning in favor of it.

The President. That is still under consultation.

Q. How are you leaning now on it?

Q. Do you think you might do that?

The President. We're looking at some proposals that have to do with that, and I can't go beyond that.

Q. Sir, is this a jobs bill, a highway bill, or a tax? Which do you prefer to call it?

The President. No. When this was first presented by Secretary Lewis over a year ago, he presented it with the idea and the real need of the highway system. But at that time, because of the economic situation we were faced with, I asked him to hold off for a while. In fact, I think I even mentioned, hold off a year. And he did and came back this year with it.

In the meantime, we have gathered much more information about the real need for this, and this, if -- --

Q. You don't mind if it creates jobs.

The President. What?

Q. You don't mind if it creates jobs.

The President. No, there's no question but obviously there will be some employment with it, but it is not a jobs bill as such. It is a necessity. It's a problem that we have to meet, and we'd be doing this if there were no recession at all.

Q. Has there been a palace coup? You said something about not raising taxes.

The President. That was in the context, that whole discussion, of our tax bill. And it's true that a tax on gas was one of those that had been proposed as an excise tax to help with that tax package that we presented in the midcourse correction of our program. And that's what I meant that, I'd -- no -- would not use that as a source, as there were several other excise taxes that we wouldn't use as a source just for general revenue. And that's what I meant at that time.

Q. How many jobs? How many jobs would it provide, about?

The President. You're getting down to the kind of questions, I'm going to turn it over to Drew.

Q. But isn't concrete breaking around your feet?

The President. What?

Q. But isn't concrete breaking around your feet?

The President. No, not at all. I knew the need a year ago and asked him to wait for a year. As a matter of fact, I specified '84, and that's what we're talking about.

Q. Do you still go for moving the tax cut up from July 1 to January 1, if you could get it?

The President. Well, this is the question that was asked, and I said this is still under consideration, and can go no further.

Q. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

Note: The President spoke at 12:19 p.m. in the Briefing Room at the White House.