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Assembly Holds First of Two Hearings on Thruway Toll Hike Plan

The first of two Assembly hearings on the state Thruway Authority’s proposed truck toll increase was held in Albany Wednesday.

Several Assembly Republicans, who are in the minority party in that house, held a hearing on the 45% toll increase for trucks proposed by the Cuomo Administration’s State Thruway Authority.

Testimony ranged from a small steel fabrication business owner, who said the additional shipping costs for the toll hike will equal one worker’s salary and benefits, to a representative from the farm lobby.  The Farm Bureau’s Julie Suarez says the recent floods and drought have already put farmers in a “a very difficult economic situation”. She says under the proposal, a truck carrying produce from Buffalo to New York City “results in an average years increase of $11,500 to that farmer’s bottom line”.

The testimony from the farmers, small business owners and trucking companies will not be heard by the Thruway Authority, however.  In a letter to the Republican Assemblymembers, Thruway officials said the public comment period is over, and that three public hearings have already been held in Buffalo, Syracuse, and Newburgh. That response angered Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, whose district borders the Hudson River.  

“They’re out of touch, they’re a rogue agency, and they need to be reined in,” said McLaughlin.

In a written response, the Executive Director of the Thruway Authority, Tom Madison, says large trucks put “thousands of times more wear and tear on the road” than cars but are currently charged just five times as much as passenger vehicles. He says the toll increase would help remedy that “inequality”.  And he says the Authority has already trimmed nearly $400 million dollars from its budget.

Governor Cuomo, who appointed Madison to his post, has not actively opposed the truck toll hike. In his most recent remarks about the tolls, the governor said he’s asked the Authority to trim waste and rectify past mismanagement. But he says it’s complicated, because if their revenues are too low, it could result in a downgrade of their bond rating.  

“The bond rating has to be intact, otherwise we’ll  have a different set of issues” Cuomo said in mid August.

Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, a Republican who represents portions of Schenectady and Saratoga, says Cuomo could do more to prevent the toll hike.

“The governor’s the 900 pound gorilla,” Tedisco said.

Tedisco says Cuomo spoke up against a proposed $14 toll on a planned new Tappan Zee bridge. He says the governor could do the same for the truck toll proposal.

Governor Cuomo’s fellow Democrats in the Assembly are also now taking on the toll hike issue.  The Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions on Wednesday afternoon called a hearing for Friday, and has invited the Thruway Authority’s Madison to testify. A spokeswoman for Committee Chair Assemblyman Jim Brennan says the proposed truck toll increases will be a key focus of the hearing, and thruway officials will be asked if there’s any way the steep toll increase can be mitigated or avoided altogether. 

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.