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Officials at the New York State Thruway Authority have seemingly revealed new depths of tone deaf condescension toward the citizens of their state. As FreedomWorks pointed out yesterday, officials at the agency have been pushing what they term a "modest" 45% toll increase on trucks traversing the 570-mile highway system in the Empire State. The plan has drawn widespread and bi-partisan condemnation due to the toll (pun intended) these hikes would take on businesses, infrastructure, consumers, and travelers alike.
So with all of the criticism facing the Thruway Authority the organization has decided to take action - They are now considering a plan that will broaden the toll hikes to include passenger vehicles.
While the toll hike on trucks and businesses would have been passed along tangentially to the consumer, the Authority is contemplating removing the middle man and implementing a driving tax for all New Yorkers.
New York State Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin tells FreedomWorks that, "Whether they raise tolls on trucks or cars the effect is the same; the consumer pays either way."
He also critiques the state agency saying, "These people just don't get it."
According to the Buffalo News, state thruway authorities are focusing on raising revenue one way or another, "and they are not ruling out a broader increase that will also hit passenger cars as a way of helping raise the $90 million annually envisioned".
Thus far, the agency has been quiet on any plans to cut spending. And even though Governor Cuomo warned officials to only consider toll hikes as a "last resort", they seem to have focused their target on raising revenue as opposed to cutting out-of-control spending.
McLaughlin indicates that the only way to know whether a reduction in spending would suffice, or if a toll hike is even necessary, is through a forensic audit of the agency - something McLaughlin has been calling on for months now.
"Until we see where and how the money is being spent we can't truly gauge the actual fiscal situation at the Thruway," he said. "The Thruway Authority's go-to answer and fallback position has consistently been toll hikes. Enough is enough."
Originally, state officials thought nothing of the controversy that lay ahead regarding the toll hikes, openly submitting their idea without much regard for public concern. When the heat was applied by McLaughlin and his colleagues on both sides of the aisle however, officials started going with a low-key approach.
A statement in September indicating that the Thruway Authority was going to move ahead with their plan to implement toll hikes meant that by law, the organization would be required to hold three public hearings. They held those hearings in the waning days of summer, a move McLaughlin says was designed to hold down attendance.
In addition to that, officials resorted to actually spying on those voicing their opposition. When opponents of the plan asked the Thruway Authority to hold a meeting in the Capital District, they declined. This prompted a team of influential Assemblymen and members of the business and trucking industries to hold their own meeting, with which they provided an open invitation to the Authority.
They declined ... or did they?
At an Assembly Majority hearing held two days later, Thruway Director Tom Madison indicated that his agency had sent someone to attend the meeting as an audience member. In a YouTube video of the meeting, Assemblyman James Tedisco questions Madison about why nobody from his agency attended the previous public hearing.
Madison says, "I'm not sure that we didn't send someone ... I think someone - " to which Tedisco completes the sentence with "- snuck in there?"
While that serves as one example of the secrecy involved in these plans to create an economic burden on New York State businesses and consumers alike, it wasn't the only one.
"They've cancelled multiple board meetings and have refused to publish an agenda for those meetings," McLaughlin complains. "We believe those meetings were intended to push through the 45% toll hike without public scrutiny, which is why the agenda was not made public."
With that said, the Thruway Authority's next meeting is scheduled for December 17th, and whether or not the proposed toll hikes for all New Yorkers will be discussed remains a mystery, as they have again failed to provide an agenda to the public.
But the people of the state of New York need to make their voices heard on this issue in some form or another. Which is where we come in.
With the economy sputtering and new taxes on the horizon, the last thing New York should think about doing is raising tolls that will directly affect businesses, consumers, and all state residents alike.