Put the brakes on a bad idea

You know things are bad when the vice chairwoman blasts the New York State Thruway Authority board, and has good reason to do so.

Donna Luh is outraged at the blatant lack of transparency surrounding the authority's ill-forged idea of a 45 percent toll hike for trucks. Tempers are rising after the authority postponed two meetings on the toll hike at the last minute. Luh blew her fuse recently when word of postponing a board meeting wasn't sent out until after 9 p.m. the night before. The words, "Are you kidding?" crept into her mind, she said.

That's what the public wants to know when it comes to this preposterous proposal. A 45 percent toll hike -- when tolls were supposed to have been eliminated in 1996, when the highway's original construction debt was paid -- is ridiculous. And so is the board meeting shuffle going on that has Luh so upset.

Luh says she's even beginning to think that the 45 percent figure isn't what this state needs. She's not alone.

From truckers to Unshackle Upstate, everyone wants to know what Thruway Authority officials are thinking, other than using the threat of a sky-high increase to ease the eventual blow of, say, a 35 percent increase. Who knows? The Cuomo administration hopes to raise $90 million in additional revenue for the Thruway Authority. One theory is that it can then skip over to the bond market to help finance a $5 billion Thruway bridge project over the Hudson River between Westchester and Rockland counties.

The New York State Motor Truck Association insists that a 45 percent toll hike would cripple some firms and most assuredly result in trucking companies and their clients passing along the cost of the toll increase to consumers. Or some truckers could decide not to take the Thruway, cutting into the anticipated revenue stream.

There are ways around this mess, involving some belt-tightening and getting rid of onerous expenses such as the maintenance costs of a non-Thruway highway in Westchester County and perhaps the biggest farce, the state's money-losing canal system.

The bad idea of using Thruway tolls to pay for the canal was most recently pointed out by State Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan, R-Elma. The Thruway and canal system were joined 20 years ago during the administration of the governor's father, Mario M. Cuomo, as part of a scheme to help balance the state's general fund.

Gallivan has noted that Thruway traffic is down 10 percent in the past seven years while the authority's expenses have risen 20 percent.

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli gets extra credit for being at the forefront of the opposition to the toll hike. He is calling on the authority to look for savings by improving its management of the system.

That work involves eliminating vacant positions, reducing overtime and marketing unused property for sale or lease. DiNapoli also cites a recent analysis by auditors in his department that showed more could be done to collect millions of dollars in E-ZPass tolls and fees that go unpaid.

It's time for the Thruway Authority to put the brakes on a bad idea.

-- The Buffalo News