DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Today, we are marking an anniversary. Twenty-five years ago this week was the last time the federal gas tax went up. Today, that tax is still what it was in 1993 - 18.4 cents per gallon. And yet the costs of building and maintaining roads and bridges are going up. Here's more from NPR's David Schaper.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: The first week of October 1993, the top TV shows were "Home Improvement," "Seinfeld" and the first "Roseanne." The top song was Mariah Carey's "Dreamlover." You could still buy a Sony Walkman for 29.95. Gas was just $1.11 a gallon. And one of the top movies that year starred Bill Murray.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GROUNDHOG DAY")
BILL MURRAY: (As Phil) Rita, I'm reliving the same day over and over.
CARL DAVIS: "Groundhog Day" is about Bill Murray's character getting caught in a time loop, and he spends decades reliving the same Groundhog Day. Those of us that have followed this gas tax debate can't help but feel some of that same repetition.
SCHAPER: Carl Davis is with the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. And he says that's because the federal gas tax is still the same 18.4 cents a gallon that it was when "Groundhog Day" was playing in theaters 25 years ago.
DAVIS: The whole reason this tax exists is to keep our roads paved and to keep our bridges from falling down, and to do that effectively, it needs to collect a sustainable amount of revenue over time. And it can't do that if it's just not updated for decades at a time.
SCHAPER: With rising construction and labor costs and less gas being used in more fuel-efficient cars, the purchasing power of the gas tax is now 64 percent less than it was in 1993. Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn says that stagnant federal gas tax means less money to fix and improve his state's highways, bridges and transit systems.
RANDY BLANKENHORN: We're losing revenue every day just because of inflation. Without new federal money, the cap of what we can do is there. We are right now simply maintaining what we have.
SCHAPER: So Kevin Pula of the National Conference of State Legislatures says, while Congress won't raise the federal gas tax, states are taking action themselves.
KEVIN PULA: In the last five years, we've seen many states - more than half of them, actually - enact legislation to increase funding for transportation.
SCHAPER: Since 2010, 33 states have raised their own motor fuel taxes. Missouri could join them next month if voters approve a 10-cents-a-gallon gas tax hike. And Colorado voters are being asked to raise the sales tax to boost transportation funding. And many states are also now indexing their gas tax to inflation so it'll go up as construction costs rise. Some states are also trying alternatives to the gas tax like mileage-based user fees that will tax electric cars that also wear down roads but don't use gas.
Staying with that "Groundhog Day" theme, Congress does hold hearings from time to time on ways to hike federal funding for transportation, but there's almost never a vote. Here's Nevada Congresswoman Dina Titus at one such hearing almost two years ago.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DINA TITUS: We're having this same conversation, same rhetoric - need to fix the infrastructure. We need to look at this. It's just a matter of paying for it. But there's no substantive plan.
SCHAPER: So when it comes to congressional inaction on transportation funding, as the late baseball legend Yogi Berra might say, it's deja vu all over again. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.