The federal highway trust fund is deep in a hole, and years of temporary infusions of general funds and all sorts of gimmicks have about run their course. The gas tax revenues that are supposed to finance the trust fund are falling further and further behind spending, mainly thanks to increased fuel efficiency and lower oil prices. But doing the obvious thing–raising the gas tax–is off the table for the usual ideological reasons, even though it’s lost more than a third of its value since the last time it was raised on a party-line budget vote in 1993. Previous increases required a famous stab-in-the-back of conservatives from George H.W. Bush and then the ultimate flip-flop by none other than Ronald Reagan.

You can read about all this and a lot more in Alec MacGillis’ exhaustive backgrounder for Politico on an issue that’s roiling Congress this very week. Alec also explores how states–including Republican-governed states–have managed to end their own inertia on gas taxes, and the lessons they teach for the befuddled GOP congressional barons who are about to begin a long August recess with this issue kicked a bit further down the road for the umpteenth time.

Most of of you probably remember MacGillis from his earlier days at TNR and WaPo. He’s now working for the nonprofit group ProPublica after a brief stop at Slate. It’s good to see he still has his knack for meticulous reporting and very clear writing.

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Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.