Tag Archives: fees

Abolishing County Government

12 May

In this episode of “why do we pay you”, the County Legislature wants to abolish a county auto registration surcharge that was imposed in the immediate wake of the late, lamented county budget crisis.

County Executive Chris Collins doesn’t want to do so. He says the legislature is engaging in election-year posturing, and that the fees are expected to raise about $5 million this year. The fees will help “hold down property taxes” and “fix infrastructure”.

While I’m confused by this apparent flip-flop of traditional party political roles, (the Democrats want to cut a fee?! The Republicans want to keep it to help pay for crap?!), it’s ultimately just another argument about a lot of nothing. Even 2 of the 3 Republicans on the Legislature – the ones who aren’t running around trying to out-Collins Collins – are in favor of abolishing this regressive fee.

But I guess when you only control about 20% of your total budget, it comes down to picking stupid nits.

Tolls Up, State Down

26 Apr

Yesterday, the board of the New York State Thruway Authority – a quasi-governmental entity with little or no oversight by politicians over the money it collects and spend – voted to raise tolls 5% next year, and 5% the year after. This follows a 10% hike earlier this year, and is compounded by a diminution in the savings you get by using EZ-Pass.

From the Buffalo News:

The toll increase encountered vehement opposition from freight haulers and commuters during a series of statewide public hearings earlier this year. State Comptroller Thomas P. Di- Napoli issued a report saying the toll hikes were unnecessary. And it prompted Assemblyman Mark J. F. Schroeder, D-Buffalo, to call for abolishment of the Thruway Authority.

About $1 billion of “off-Thruway” costs, such as running the state canal system, and the need to repair much of the road’s half-century- old infrastructure has forced the authority to enact another round of toll hikes, Thruway Authority Executive Director Michael R. Fleischer said Friday.

It wouldn’t be so bad if there wasn’t so much waste at the Thruway Authority; if it hadn’t been used as a dumping ground for borrowing and spending by the state so that it could be kept off the regular Albany books. It wouldn’t be so bad if so much of the toll revenue didn’t go simply to administering itself. It wouldn’t be so bad if the roadway was actually well-maintained throughout. Have you ever crossed the Pennsylvania border on the I-90? The New York side, for which you pay, is like a washboard. The Pennsylvania side is smooth as silk. And toll-free.

He also said the DiNapoli audit underestimated federal aid by a minimum of $125 million for a five-year budget period, though Fleischer said New York State took no steps to obtain federal aid in its latest budget.

Nevertheless, Schroeder said he has joined State Sen. George D. Maziarz, RNewfane, in sponsoring a bill that would abolish the authority and transfer the Thruway to the state highway system.

“We elect leaders to administer these vital functions of government,” Schroeder said outside his office in South Buffalo. “They shouldn’t be in the hands of some pseudo-governmental board of political appointees who answer to no one.”

Schroeder said Thruway Authority spending is indicative of the explosion of authorities in New York, which he estimated at 640. He said they have contributed $81.5 billion worth of debt to state government, with the Thruway Authority alone in debt for $2.4 billion.

“This out-of-control borrowing is irresponsible,” he said.

Trucking officials say the new toll hikes, combined with higher gasoline prices, will only increase the cost of all delivered goods.

“Unfortunately, the timing right now could not be worse,” said Kendra Adams, spokeswoman for the New York State Motor Truck Association. “With the economy faltering and high diesel costs, any additional costs the industry incurs has to be passed on.”

That, she said, will result in higher costs for staples like food and clothing.

That’s the thing that all the anti-car forces tend to ignore. While it’s easy as pie to mock commuters and people who must or enjoy driving long-distance, trucks use that roadway, too. The same trucks that now pay $4.30 / gallon for diesel fuel will now pay higher tolls to bring things like hemp and soy milk to the local cooperative market. These things affect the whole of society whether you like it or not. Priuses don’t deliver freight.

Kudos to Schroeder and Maziarz for at least raising the issue of state authorities being so out-of-control that their abolition or reformation is needed. Something drastic has to change, and the state needs to fundamentally change how it does business.

As with most things coming out of Albany, insult is added to injury:

Adams acknowledged the Thruway remains the road of choice for New York truckers, and as one of the safest and best maintained highways in America, the industry has no problem paying its fair share.

“But the majority of new toll revenues will be diverted to the canal,” she said. “That makes it that much more difficult to accept.”

It’s because of the Erie Canal? Hell, the Thruway at least serves an economic purpose. While it will cost you north of $12.00 to drive from Williamsville to Albany, if you take a boat through the canal, it will cost you $5.00 – 20.00 per day (depending on vessel size), and the toll is only paid if you pass through a lock or lift bridge. A ten-day pass is between $12.50 – 50.00 (again, depending on vessel size).

If the Canal is so deep in the hole, why not – I don’t know – raise tolls and fees on boaters?

New York State. It’s like a panhandler that won’t go away.