CATSKILL–Two local Assemblymen have joined an effort to block a plan announced earlier this year to raise Thruway tolls for the largest commercial vehicles by 45%. The Thruway Authority says the toll hike is needed to pay off over $860 million in short-term debt, allowing for the proper maintenance and improvements to the 570-mile-long, statewide highway system.
Assemblyman Pete Lopez, a Republican running for reelection in new 102nd District, and Republican Steve McLaughlin, who is running for reelection in the new 107th District, have both participated in recent events with representatives of business interests opposed to the increases. Last week, for example, Mr. Lopez posed for photos with other opponents of the toll hike at the Thruway exit outside of the Village of Catskill.
The new 102nd District includes the Columbia County Towns of Stuyvesant and Stockport. The new 107th includes Kinderhook, Chatham, New Lebanon, Canaan, Austerlitz and Hillsdale.
Mr. Lopez said in a phone interview ahead of the toll plaza event that he and his colleagues see the increase as a “backdoor tax” that cause businesses to pass on the higher costs of transporting goods to consumers. He said the Thruway already has toll rates that are “the highest in the Northeast.”
Assemblyman McLaughlin and Capital Region Republican Assemblyman Jim Tedisco wrote to Thruway Authority Chairman Howard Milstein last month, saying in part “… with so many rest-stop plazas and commercial businesses like hotels and restaurants relying on capital from the trucking industry, there are many families and businesses whose economic viability would be in serious jeopardy should these toll hikes be implemented. Like everything else, the more something is taxed, the less we get.”
Thruway Authority Spokesman Dan Weiler said this week that critics of the plan are wrong about both the relative cost of Thruway tolls and the characterization of the increase as a tax. He pointed to a recent study of the Thruway Authority’s finances available on the Thruway website, www.thruway.ny.gov, showing that Thruway tolls for big trucks with more than three axles–the only vehicles that would see a toll hike–are lower than the rates on the New Jersey and Pennsylvania turnpikes and all the toll routes in and out of New York City.
Mr. Weiler said big trucks cause far greater wear on highways and bridges than passenger vehicles. He also said that the Thruway does not use any state tax money. The Thruway is funded by user fees, primarily tolls.
Mr. Lopez said he and his colleagues wonder whether the legislature’s decision to have the Thruway absorb the state Canal Corporation was diverting funds to canals that should pay for Thruway projects.
Mr. Weiler did not respond to that point, but he did say the Thruway Authority does not operate with a financial shortfall.
The toll increase has not yet taken effect, something Mr. Lopez said he viewed as a good sign.
Democrat Cheryl Roberts, who is running against Mr. McLaughlin in the November election, could not be reached for comment prior to press time.