WASHINGTON — The top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee last week rebuked a congressionally mandated panel that is expected on Tuesday to propose raising the gas tax as much as eight cents to improve the nation’s aging surface transportation network.

“A special commission came up with an old, cold, bad idea,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a release issued Friday. “We have economists saying the increase in energy costs is adding to recession concerns, while this commission reportedly will say we should add to those concerns.

“Raising the gas tax [also] puts the brunt of the long-term [funding] ... expenses on automobile drivers, when diesel trucks and other heavy vehicles also use the highways,” he continued. “This is a disappointment and probably even a big waste of tax dollars.”

Grassley’s criticisms appear to spell trouble for the commission’s recommendations because any increase in the tax would have to be approved by the Finance Committee.

Grassley’s comments come in response to news reports that the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission will propose raising the current 18.4 cent per gallon gas tax between five and eight cents per year for five years and indexing the tax for inflation after that. The commission was created by Congress in 2005 to assess the future transportation needs and how to finance them over 15 to 50 years.

“I hope there are more creative ideas in the commission’s report than a gas tax increase,” Grassley said. “The nation needs innovative ways to meet energy needs without sinking the economy.”

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