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DRIVING N.Y. TO RUIN

New York Post | April 6, 2005

-- New York officials just won't rest until they've forced every last business out of the state.

That's what New Yorkers — and particularly businesses and individuals who use the Thruway — must be thinking this week as a plan to hike tolls on that road is debated across the state.

Tolls would rise about 25 percent for cars and an average of 35 percent for trucks. And, thanks to a simultaneous "toll simplification" plan, some truckers could face effective hikes of 100 percent or more, says William Joyce, president of the state Motor Truck Association.

"The marginal players are going to get knocked out" of business, Joyce warns, "and we don't have a healthy industry in New York to start with."

That's just the start of the pain.

Joyce estimates the hikes could add as much as $6 an hour to the cost of shipping. Where will the money come from?

From businesses that use the Thruway.

And their customers.

Ultimately, that is, you.

Have officials given any thought to the impact on the economy, particularly upstate? Not likely.

Joyce figures that a six-axle truck making 250 trips a month across the state from Pennsylvania to New England would see toll costs rise from about $10,200 to nearly $16,800.

That's six grand a month.

Some truckers, he says, may choose other roads to save money. Which would send traffic through areas that are less-than-ideal for big vehicles. And mean less revenue for the Thruway Authority, not more.

But many in-state businesses have no choice but to use the road, which runs from New York City up to Albany and west to Buffalo.

"This all becomes a cost of doing business," Joyce says.

Now add the cost of escalating tolls to the cost of escalating taxes (in the highest-taxing state in America) and escalating costs for energy, and health care, and regulation, and traffic, and . . .

Pretty soon nobody will want — or be able — to do business in New York.

The upstate economy truly can't take much more of this. Since 1990, reports the Public Policy Institute of New York State, some 170,000 upstate jobs have vanished in the manufacturing sector alone — the sector that depends on the roads disproportionately.

These jobs traditionally have been a mainstay of the upstate economy.

Yes, the Thruway needs the money.

Keeping the road in top condition is every bit as vital as holding down tolls. And tolls haven't risen in 17 years.

But in most states, the main highways are free, their upkeep funded by gas taxes, motor-vehicle fees and other revenue. That's not entirely possible in New York, because taxes and fees here are used for other purposes — to support the lawmakers' insatiable appetites for other budget goodies, for example.

Remember, the bottom line of the "budget" that Albany passed last week is already somewhere in the area of $106 billion — and lawmakers aren't even finished with their spending on some big-ticket items, like Medicaid.

Plus, the Thruway Authority spends its revenues not just on the Thruway, but also on two non-toll roads, I-287 and I-84, and on the state's canal system.

So Thruway motorists, in effect, are subsidizing others in the state.

Again, there's no question that the Thruway is vital to the state's economy. Officials must ensure that New York's transportation infrastructure — be it subways or highways — meets the needs of commuters and commerce.

But costs matter, too. Best not to learn that hard way — from fleeing businesses.

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