The state Thruway Authority board has set another meeting but still won’t say when it plans to consider a longstanding proposal for what it calls a “modest” 45 percent increase in tolls for truckers.
Executive Director Thomas Madison says the directors will meet Dec. 17 to choose a plan for replacing the Tappan Zee Bridge linking Westchester and Rockland counties, which will also include a bridge toll increase. But he says the Thruway toll increase proposed in the spring hasn’t yet been added to that agenda.
On Tuesday, Madison wouldn’t rule out any option to meet a fiscal shortfall. In an interview with The Buffalo News, he wouldn’t even rule out a broader toll increase to include passenger cars. On Thursday, authority spokesman Dan Weiller said no broad-based toll increase is being considered.
The authority’s meetings have been watched closely by business and trucking groups and upstate Republican assemblymen who claim the board will try to sneak the vote by the public.
“These arrogant, unresponsive bureaucrats just don’t get it,” said Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, a Renseelaer County Republican. “As usual, the public is given no details, no information on their Dec. 17 agenda, and will be affected the most by any toll increase.”
Another lawmaker accused the authority of operating as a secret government.
“Not even the Grinch Who Stole Christmas could be this diabolical,” said Assemblyman James Tedisco, a Republican representing Schenectady and Saratoga counties. “A toll increase of any kind on cars or trucks is unacceptable, especially in this difficult economy and when report after report has outlined the rampant incompetence and mismanagement by the Thruway Authority.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo appoints the leaders of the authority, but he has distanced himself from the unpopular proposal that critics say will hurt business and increase the cost of goods.
“That is up to them,” Cuomo said Wednesday. “They are under pressure from the bond underwriters and the bond rating is very, very important to this state ... they need to make ends meet.”
“The easy way to make up the deficit is to raise taxes or tolls,” Cuomo said. “That is the last resort in my book. It sends the wrong signal, so I have told them, ‘Go back and come up with other options and find other ways and that is the last resort,’ and I don’t think you go to the last resort until you have proven there is no other viable option and I don’t believe they’ve gone through that process yet.”
A year ago, Cuomo and the Legislature raised $1.9 billion in income taxes on wealthier New Yorkers to balance the current state budget.
“We’re exploring every possible alternative,” Madison said. He said the authority during the Cuomo administration has cut $300 million in capital costs and $25 million in operations.
The authority is “trying to get our house in order at the same time we are exploring alternatives to this proposed toll adjustment.”
The Thruway Authority says the toll increaase is needed to raise $90 million annually and keep the agency solvent. The toll for a three-axle truck traveling from Buffalo to New York City is about $88. Under the proposal, that could increase to $127. In June, a rating agency said “aggressive” toll increases for truckers and eventually all drivers might be needed to keep the authority fiscally sound, even though a multiyear phase-in of toll increases for car drivers ended in 2010.