The New York State Thruway Authority is proposing a 45% toll hike for commercial traffic. Many are already speaking out against it.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has defended the increase saying it is "needed" to deal with escalating maintenance costs. Unshackle Upstate says the increase would hurt the trucking industry.
The first of three public hearings will be held Thursday night in Buffalo. One local leader is vowing a fight.
"My position is very clear on the issue of increasing tolls. We are dead set against it," said State Senator Tim Kennedy of Buffalo.
Kennedy will be at the public hearing in opposition of the proposed toll increase. The South Buffalo democrat said a toll hike would stand in the way of any progress being made to recover from a tough economy.
"It is absolutely appalling that the New York State Thruway Authority would even consider raising tolls while we are trying to get the region and the state back on its feet from an economic development standpoint," said Kennedy.
"The reason there are these public hearings is to get public input," noted Sam Hoyt, regional president of Empire State Development. Hoyt, a former assemblyman, once fought against tolls. But Hoyt now defends the challenges the Authority faces to remain fiscally sound.
"If that highway isn't functioning. If that is not in good condition, it is a detriment to economic development," said Hoyt. "Money doesn't go on trees and the federal government is not providing the funding for the work."
State comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is blasting the increase. He said would have damaging effects on consumers and businesses.
But late Wednesday afternoon, the Thruway Authority issued a statement saying the comptroller's past audits have actually contributed to past problems at the Authority by failing to report years of what it calls "fiscal gimmicks and deferred expenses." The Authority also promises to trim as much as $400 million in expenses.
The following is the full statement issued by New York State Thruway Authority Executive Director Thomas Madison:
“The Comptroller issued a report today on the Thruway Authority. The Comptroller, and his audits over the years, have actually contributed to past problems at the Thruway Authority by failing to report years of fiscal gimmicks and deferred expenses.
“This spring we conducted an independent financial review by a highly credible firm which found $800 million in risky financial borrowing that needed to be repaid immediately. We will continue to do everything possible to control costs, and already anticipate cutting as much as $400 million in expenses.
“On the other hand, the Thruway must also be able to keep the system safe and reliable for our patrons by repairing roads and clearing snow and ice. No one wants dangerous conditions on the roads.
“The fact remains that tolls for large trucks on the Thruway – mostly long distance haulers – are 50 to 85 percent less in New York than in comparable states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania. And each of these trucks creates thousands of times more damage to roads and bridges than a passenger car. Heavy trucks, not passenger vehicles, should bear these added costs, so that tolls can be kept as low as possible for all motorists.”