Reject bailout for Thruway

The Thruway Authority should be able to solve its financial problems without a bailout from state taxpayers.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal seeks about $85 million for the Thruway Authority. Cuomo said the assistance includes the state takeover of personnel costs for state troopers on the highway. He said the money would eliminate the need for a highly unpopular toll increase on trucks.

What’s odd about the governor’s proposal is the Thruway Authority – which is not normally funded by the state and relies on tolls – in December dropped plans for a 45 percent increase in truck tolls, saying it would take a number of cost-cutting steps instead. The Thruway Authority appeared ready to take care of its own problems. People had reason to believe the Thruway Authority was going to make the hard decisions so many others in the state have had to make. But that may not happen if the state grants the bailout.

There would be better uses for the $85 million. Locally, the Mayfield, Wheelerville and Wells school districts all are due to receive a decrease in state education aid in the proposed budget. A small fraction of that $85 million could be used to at least maintain their current level of funding.

In fairness, the people who run the Thruway Authority do not have an easy job, especially with the Erie Canal dragging them down. The authority took over the Canal Corp. in 1992 after the Legislature transferred it to the Thruway to eliminate the canal from the state budget.

In a report earlier this year, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said the authority has spent $1.1 billion to fund the system. However, he also noted the Thruway increased its operating costs by 36 percent over the past 10 years while debt payments doubled and revenues failed to increase at the same rate.

The governor’s funding proposal appears similar to the state’s answer to problems with the New York Racing Association. Despite a monopoly on the “Sport of Kings” in the state – and all of the gambling dollars that went with it – poor management led to financial problems, and the state stepped in with taxpayers’ money to rescue the association.

Must taxpayers now prop up the Thruway Authority? State legislators should reject the governor’s proposed bailout.

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