PhotoHe doesn't have many supporters for the measure, either in Congress or out, but Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) is pushing for four years of four-cent gas tax hikes to fix the nation's highway funding shortfall.

The Highway Trust Fund is running short of money in part because the current generation of fuel-efficient cars aren't burning as much gas as their predecessors -- meaning that while inflation keeps pushing up the cost of highway construction and maintenance, gas tax revenues stay flat or even decline.

"Rather than lurching from crisis to crisis, increasing country's debt, and borrowing more money from foreign governments to pay for our transportation system, I say it’s time to do what’s right," Carper said. "At a time when gas prices are some of the lowest we've seen in recent memory, we should be willing to make the hard choice to raise the federal gas tax."

To balance the 16-cent cost of a gas tax hike, Carper suggests making permanent certain expiring tax cuts that he says would "directly benefit hard-working Americans."

The legislation would also extend and expand the earned income (EITC) and child (CTC) tax credits. It would make both credits permanent, as well as expand the EITC for childless workers, index the CTC to inflation, and make it easier for working Americans who qualify to claim the EITC, Carper said.

Carper's bill, the Traffic Relief Act, isn't given much chance of passage in a GOP-controlled Congress that generally opposes any tax increase.

What about hybrids?

Any mention of the gas tax always brings up the issue of hybrids and all-electric cars, which use less or, in the case of all-electric cars, no gas and thus pay less or no gas tax.

On the one hand, fairness seems to dictate that those cars should pay some alternative fee for using the nation's highways. On the other, environmentalists say the cars' other benefits should earn them a free ride.

There aren't really enough zero-emission cars out there to make much of a difference financially but conservatives have a hard time accepting the notion that greenies should thumb their noses at the gas tax while pick-up truck drivers pay through the nose.

Until recently, Virginia had a special yearly tax for electric cars but it was withdrawn when Democrats took over several statewide offices in the most recent election.

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