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A lesson to be learned

Friday, December 28, 2012 - Updated: 6:10 PM

There is a lesson to learn from the tortuous road the New York State Thruway Authority took to not imposing a 45 percent toll increase on trucks. It's a lesson that all governments in New York need to learn, from the state budget office to the tiniest villages: Look elsewhere -- and hard -- before reaching into anyone's pocket.

That hasn't been the standard in too many places in this state for too long. Albany's performance has improved since Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo took office two years ago, but at the same time, Cuomo initially supported the Thruway Authority's grab for truckers' money. For whatever reason, though, he changed his mind and applied to the Thruway Authority the same cautious fiscal standards that he has been using on the state budget for the past two years.

The turnaround by the Thruway Authority came with head-spinning speed. For months, it had insisted that tolls on trucks would rise by 45 percent and, despite the protests by business groups, Cuomo went along with it. Then, only a few weeks ago, it said it would not raise tolls on trucks but that it might do so on cars, except that it then decided it wouldn't do that, either.

Then, Cuomo officials junked the 45 percent toll hike, announcing that the authority would find the needed $90 million through cost savings that include staff cutbacks through attrition, sharing services with other state agencies, reducing new vehicle costs and refinancing debt. In short, it decided to do all the things it should have done before ever thinking about any toll increase, let alone one that was tailor-made to choke off truck traffic on the state's main thoroughfare.

In a state in as much trouble as this one, it is incomprehensible that the Thruway Authority reached so casually for the toll increase lever before exploring the kinds of options that any private-sector business would before asking its clients to pay more. Indeed, even Cuomo had to be reminded that the increase he tacitly supported flew in the face of the "open for business" mantra he is pitching to companies looking to expand.

The good news is that the light dawned before the increase could take effect, but that does nothing to increase trust in the judgment of the Thruway Authority. Its poor management and cavalier attitude toward raising rates on truckers documents the case for doing away with the authority altogether.

What use does it serve if it cannot efficiently perform the task for which it was created?

This is a lesson that needs to be absorbed by governments of all levels around the state. The slogan that government should be run like a business is overused and not entirely accurate, but elements of it are plainly true. One of them is that you don't hit up your clients unless you have no other choice.

-- The Buffalo News


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