Congressman points to lavish Authority spending to refute claims that they can’t afford toll elimination; says Authority still changing its story about and underreporting federal aid
In response to claims by the New York State Thruway Authority that they cannot afford to remove the tolls on the Niagara section of the New York State Thruway, Congressman Brian Higgins presented the Authority with a list of instances in which the Authority lavishly spent toll funds on non-Thruway projects. The Congressman also blasted the authority for continuing to misrepresent its reliance on federal funds.
“While some of these projects have merit and are legitimate state interests, the fact that they are all funded by the Thruway Authority with Thruway tolls undermines your assertion that you cannot afford to absorb the loss of revenue from the I-190, and that said loss would necessarily have to be passed on to state taxpayers,” the Congressman said in a April 10th, 2006 letter to the Authority.
The Congressman pointed out that while the Authority claims it cannot afford to remove the I-190 tolls, it used Thruway tolls for the following non-Thruway projects:
• Millions in toll revenue goes to subsidize the State’s canal system:
o $84 million in 2006
o $77 million in 2005
o $71 million in 2004
• On March 22nd of this year, the Governor announced that he instructed the Thruway Authority to waive all tolls for recreational boaters on the canals, which are subsidized by Thruway tolls.
• More than $15 million per year in Thruway tolls goes to support 100 miles of free highways outside New York City.
• Small Town Waterfront Development: Aside from subsidizing the canal, with dredging and the rehabilitation of locks and dams, the governor uses our tolls to lavish waterfront development projects on canal communities all over the state:
o At least 4.6 million for waterfront development projects in small communities like Hastings, Waterford, Baldwinsville, Brockport, Frankfort, Palmyra, Phoenix, Pittsford, Rome, and Clarkson.
o The Authority paid another $4 million to the Central NY Regional Transit Authority (Syracuse’s NFTA) for planning for the pedestrian trail along the length of the canal.
• $6.5 million to set up a ferry between Westchester County and Manhattan.
• $19.1 million for the Syracuse Inner Harbor.
• $5 million for the Syracuse Bus Station.
• $188,000 grant to the University of Pittsburg to study behavior of steel in bridges.
• Over $1.8 million to an ad agency to promote the Thruway and Canals.
• $23,000 to sports announcer Pat Summerall for him to host a 5 minute video.
The Congressman also blasted the authority for continuing to misrepresent its reliance on federal funds. He pointed out the chronology of the Authority’s obfuscation with regard to federal funding:
• At the beginning of last week, the Thruway Authority issued a statement indicating that it received no federal funding.
• In the middle of the week, the Thruway Authority made statements recognizing a few million dollars in federal assistance, despite the fact that their budget books for the past three years contain pie charts which show an annual budgeted federal subsidy ranging from $46.3 million to $159.4 million.
• At the end of last week, the Thruway Authority issued a document called the “Fact Sheet on Niagara Tolls,” which finally recognized that the federal government invested substantially in building and rebuilding the I-190.
The Congressman pointed out, however, that the Thruway Authority, in their “Fact Sheet on Niagara Tolls,” was still grossly underreporting the level of federal investment in the I-190. The Authority’s statement indicated that the federal government had invested merely $42.4 million in the I-190. Refuting this claim, Congressman Higgins provided the Thruway Authority with a detailed accounting, based on data from the Federal Highway Administration, which shows a total federal investment of $193,878,902 in the I-190 over the past 30 years.
The Congressman pointed out two important principles at the heart of the current public policy debate regarding the discontinuation of the Buffalo Commuter Tax:
• It is fundamentally unfair that while there are twenty-five arterial highways which connect the mainline Thruway to urban and suburban communities throughout Upstate New York, only one is a toll road, that being the I-190.
• The Thruway Authority has received substantial federal funding for the construction and reconstruction of the I-190. This means that the tolls collected on the I-190 constitute a “double tax” on I-190 users. Users of the I-190 pay for the I-190 once in the form of the federal gas tax and pay for it again in the form of the Breckenridge and Ogden Street toll barriers.
“What matters is that the toll barriers come down as expeditiously as possible,” said the Congressman in his letter to the Authority. “It is my hope that you and the Governor will work expeditiously to achieve this goal.”
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