By Tom Precious
ALBANY -- It's been a tough day for the folks at the state's Thruway Authority.
First, one of their own -- the vice chairwoman of the board -- in a Buffalo News story earlier today blasted the agency for its secretive ways and for refusing to publicly release an agenda for board meetings on a plan to hike tolls on trucks by 45 percent. The stinging comments by Donna Luh, who said even board members have been kept out of the loop on any alternative toll plan being considered by the agency, came after the authority postponed, for a second time in four days, a planned board meeting called for this morning on the toll question.
Now, even Democrats are getting into the act, questioning the transparency of the Cuomo administration's Thruway agency.
Here is the letter written today by Assemblyman Sean Ryan, a Buffalo Democrat, to Thomas Madison, executive director of the Thruway Authority.
Dear Mr. Madison:
I write today concerning the New York State Thruway Authority’s (NYSTA) ongoing quest to raise tolls by 45% for trucks and commercial vehicles. The NYSTA announced last night that a second planned meeting of the board, scheduled for today, would be cancelled. This follows the cancellation of a board meeting that was set to take place last Friday. I join many others in expressing concern that the NYSTA did not publicly disclose agendas for these meetings ahead of their scheduled times. I assume another meeting of the NYSTA board will be scheduled soon. The NYSTA must disclose the agenda for this meeting ahead of time, so that the public has the ability to comment on any proposed actions by the NYSTA board. I also reiterate my call for the NYSTA to abandon plans for a 45% toll hike, and instead focus on a comprehensive plan to cut costs and improve toll recovery rates.
All New Yorkers should be concerned about the secrecy of the NYSTA as this process unfolds. As the NYSTA considers this toll increase, the very minimum you could do is to publicly disclose your meeting agenda. This would at least give the public time to give their thoughts on the proposed toll increase. At the same time, we need to look at the facts surrounding the NYSTA’s proposed toll hike. Simply put, this toll hike is absolutely unnecessary. The NYSTA lost over $35 million dollars in a five year period between 2007 and 2011 to toll evaders. That is unacceptable. Improving toll collection is one important step that can be taken to increase revenue to the NYSTA, avoiding the need for such a massive toll hike. The NYSTA board should be focusing on revenue problems that can be fixed internally. The toll hike is the easy way out, and shows a disregard for finding real solutions to the problem.
The impact of a 45% toll hike for trucks and commercial vehicles will be felt in every region of our state. It will impact businesses both small and large, and lead to higher prices for consumers in New York. Every available method to improve efficiency should be looked at before considering such a massive toll hike. At the same time, the NYSTA needs to improve efforts on transparency, and make board meeting agendas publicly available. I look forward to hearing from you on this important matter.