The No. 2 board member of the Thruway Authority says the handling of a proposed toll hike has been botched.
A second Thruway Authority meeting in less than a week was canceled abruptly Tuesday, as a proposed 45 percent toll increase for trucks lingers in uncertainty. The most recent cancellation included a meeting for the Thruway Authority board of directors.
“I’m not happy with the consecutive postponements,” said Donna Luh, vice chair of the Thruway Authority board. “It certainly doesn’t look good.”
The proposed toll hike has been under constant attack by state legislators and business interests who argue it will drive up costs and send a bad message to truckers. Locally, the authority has been criticized for not hosting a Capital Region hearing on the proposal.
Luh said the actions of the authority, including a refusal to even release an agenda for the two canceled meetings, represents a violation of the public trust. “I’m disappointed as a board member that we’re doing this,” she said, adding that it wasn’t clear why the meetings had been scrubbed.
Thruway Authority Executive Director Thomas J. Madison released a statement saying the proposed toll increase requires more evaluation. “The Thruway is looking at a number of options and doing extensive research and it will continue to do this due-diligence work before another meeting is called and a recommendation is made,” Madison said.
In response to the second cancelation, Assemblyman James Tedisco, R-Glenville, said, “Now it looks like they are running scared when faced with the overwhelming opposition to this toll hike.”
Brian Sampson, executive director of the business coalition Unshackle Upstate, said the two cancellations showed a lack of transparency and accountability in the authority, but was encouraged by Madison’s statement.
Sampson said it was good that the authority would continue to review all the possibilities surrounding the toll hike. “But if one of those options does not include the execution and follow-through of a forensic audit, Unshackle Upstate and other organizations that are opposed to the toll hike will continue to oppose it,” he added.
Luh said based on the handling of the proposal, “I would have a very difficult time voting for a 45 percent increase.”
She said the authority should have been more open in its actions, especially since some form of a toll increase might be necessary. “But there is a responsible way to this,” she noted, adding that she has voiced her concerns in an email to Madison and the authority board Chairman Howard P. Milstein.
While another meeting hasn’t been scheduled yet, she said the board has been informed that the next meeting will be after Thanksgiving.
Assembly members Tony Jordan, R-Jackson, and Tedisco both have plans to avoid issues like this in the future.
Jordan has introduced a bill that would require legislative approval for any actions by a state agency that have a statewide fiscal impact of more than $5 million. “This reform would stop unilateral actions like egregious toll hikes by public authorities and restore accountability,” he said in a news release.
Tedisco wants to take the power of fee increases away from state agencies. His plan would require members of the state Legislature to approve any toll or fee increases.
Jordan’s bill is Assembly Bill 5687 and Tedisco’s bill is Assembly Bill 2040.