New York governor's Thruway toll break stumbles

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Tuesday, March 22, 2016

An effort in New York by the governor to give certain users of the state Thruway a break on tolls has been sidelined. Neither the state Assembly nor Senate included the $1 billion initiative in their state budget bills.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled the toll rate plan in January as part of his 2016 agenda. The main part of his plan is touted as the largest investment in transportation infrastructure in upstate New York.

Specifically, his plan would cut tolls in half for in-state passenger vehicle owners using E-ZPass and paying at least $50 in annual tolls. His office estimates the planned tax credit would aid 911,743 motorists.

New York-based businesses and commercial vehicle owners using E-ZPass and paying between $100 and $9,999 annually would also have their toll rates cut in half. About 980 commercial vehicle owners residing in the state would benefit from the tax break.

Trucks hauling agricultural products using E-ZPass would have their toll fees waived through a 100 percent credit.

The governor has said the Thruway tolls serve as a “gravy train” that continues to burden upstate businesses and commuters.

Cuomo proposed using $1 billion from the state budget to cover the toll plan. He said the proposal will allow the Thruway to freeze toll rates for all vehicles until at least 2020.

The state Assembly and Senate have instead opted to exclude most of the toll breaks from their budget bills.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, said the chamber does support the governor’s proposal for a new tax credit to reimburse thruway tolls charged to farm vehicles. However, he said Assembly Democrats do not want to encourage more traffic on roadways.

In place of the governor’s initiative, the chamber opted to include additional funding for education, as well as funding for infrastructure projects.

Cuomo has blamed the toll effort’s demise on a divide between lawmakers from upstate and downstate New York. However, Heastie replied that the governor should first check to see what upstate lawmakers have to say about the plan before touting a divide between the regions.

A February letter signed by 18 Assembly lawmakers from upstate encouraged Heastie to reject the governor’s plan.

The issue, however, is not settled. Legislators and the governor will end up negotiating the final terms of the budget.

To view other legislative activities of interest for New York, click here.

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