Gov. Andrew Cuomo apparently helped stave off an unpopular 45 percent hike on Thruway truck tolls, but the good news is far from unalloyed.
For two-thirds of the $90 million that the toll hike would have raised, Cuomo and the Thruway Authority basically kicked the can down the road, with the former agreeing to take over the cost of state police services the Thruway has been paying $60 million a year for. Instead, the state will pay for those services out of general revenues — an acceptable arrangement except that the state, like the Thruway Authority, is broke.
So where will the money come from? That will be up to the governor and Legislature to decide, but the old arrangement — having Thruway customers pay with their tolls — was probably fairer. More than likely, all New Yorkers — some of whom who may never use the Thruway — will be the ones who pay. Is that preferable to truckers paying, some of whom are not even from the state and who do the lion’s share of damage to the highway’s roads and bridges? Perhaps not, but it’s undeniable that a 45 percent toll hike would have been damaging to a number of them, their businesses and New York state commerce in general.
To the Authority’s credit, it did manage to cut millions in spending — more than 350 jobs (mostly through attrition) from a bloated, 3,000-member workforce; employee benefits and vehicle purchases. But it’s going to have to do more of that sort of thing to balance its books without toll hikes for the next three years.
We felt the truck toll hike was excessive, but that some smaller, broader based toll hike was probably necessary. Taking its $60 million-a-year state police obligation off the books helps with the immediate crisis, as will the proposed budget cuts, but no one should kid themselves into thinking that major progress was made here when two-thirds of the relief resulted from a shell game.