Wisconsin, Minnesota consider tolls on highways

The Republican view on the nation’s infrastucture is becoming a little more clear this week, dubbed by President Trump as “infrastructure Week”: If you use it, you’ll pay for it.

On Monday, the president announced he wants to privatize air traffic control, a system that actually works fine now, despite what you’ve heard. It’s a move that most likely will usher in user fees on pilots, both commercial and non-commercial.

Now, KSTP’s Tom Hauser reports, the Republican Legislature wants to study the idea of toll roads in Minnesota. The request for a study was tucked into the transportation finance bill and is to be completed by the next session.

Minnesota has the fifth-largest highway system in the country, and its citizens have historically hated the idea of tolls, even though every few years someone wants to study the idea.

The obvious candidate would be I-90 across southern Minnesota. But federal law currently prohibits states and the federal government from adding tolls on existing interstate highways.

Of the 46,730-mile interstate system, about 2,900 miles are tolled.

It seems likely, however, that the Trump administration would favor letting states decide the question, even though that would require it to acknowledge that President Barack Obama thought the same thing.

Trump ally Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s governor, would seem to think it likely. Yesterday, Walker said he could live with the idea of turning some Wisconsin highways into toll roads on the Illinois border, the idea being to use money generated by Illinois residents to reduce the gas tax for Wisconsinites.

Some lawmakers in Wisconsin want the Minnesota border to be tolled too, although a 2013 congressional agency study warned this sort of thing could spark a toll war between states.

“An unsettled question is whether schemes that impose highway tolls only at state borders, and not within the state, contravene the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which reserved the power to ‘regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states’ to Congress,” the Congressional Research Service said.