Alabama lawmakers last week pulled the plug on a 7.5 cent increase in the state's gasoline tax that supporters had hoped would be used to fund a 20-year, $5 billion road construction program.

Under one proposal advanced last week, the road-building plan had included provision for the sale of $700 million of tax-exempt bonds.

The program had originally been passed by the House of Representatives on May 14 and then in a slightly different version by the Senate on July 9. Each chamber would have lifted the state's tax on gasoline and diesel fuel to 20.5 cents a gallon. This would have been in addition to the federal government's 13-cent tax on gasoline and 14-cent tax on diesel fuel.

The House, however, would have phased in the increased tax over two years, while the Senate would have phased it in over six years.

Conferees from both chambers worked to reconcile differences last week, but they gave up last Thursday after Republican Gov. Guy Hunt withdrew his support, according to Mike Murphy, the Senate's public information officer.

Mr. Murphy said the bond issue was proposed as a way of getting highway work started immediately, using the longer phase-in period proposed by the senators.

"Support for the bill was shaky to begin with, and when people found out that the governor was backing away from it, they jumped off that train like a bunch of hoboes," he said.

Gov. Hunt's spokesman denied that the governor had withdrawn support for the highway program and said a special legislative session might be called to consider it. Alabama's fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

Mr. Murphy said there was no hope the highway legislation can be reviewed before this year's 1991 session ends Monday, following a 54-to-43 defeat by the House of the conferees' report last Thursday.

Lawmakers have adjourned for the week and will return to pass the state's budget on the final day of the session next Monday.

The highway program would have expended about $250 million a year over 20 years to expand the state's system of four-lane highways, allowing for building and renovation of about 150 miles of roadway a year, Mr. Murphy said.

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