The Williamsville toll barrier.
BUFFALO, NY - During the next Thruway Authority meeting, which is expected to happen sometime in December, board members will discuss more than a proposed 45 percent toll increase on trucks.
They'll also look to find ways to slash their budget, because of what Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday during an Albany radio interview.
Cuomo finally chimed into the discussion over whether the Thruway Authority should raise tolls on truckers. The proposed 45 percent hike would affect you and in terms of what we pay for groceries, furniture, and other things the trucks ship.
"I think the last resort is a toll increase, I think they have to explore all other options first, get creative, get aggressive," said Cuomo.
Echoing this are truckers, business groups and some lawmakers, who say a toll increase would hurt the state's economy.
"I don't believe being creative is their mission," said Jeff Williams, a former board member, who says there are ways the Thruway could save money quickly.
For example, the authority could share its canal system responsibilities.
"Maybe there is some joint-cooperation you can do with some villages and towns, I'm sure the City of Lockport would love to have more control of their locks, they've put enormous amount of money into them, wrote a lot of grants, I think places like North Tonawanda, City of Buffalo [would be interested]," said Williams.
According to the system's 2013 proposed budget, the state pays about $50 million to run canals and even more cash to equip them.
Salaries could also be cut.
Recently, Two On Your Side found that the Thruway's Buffalo office costs more than $4.1 million annually to run, with the average salary there about $77,000.
"They have a lot of employees and I think a lot of unnecessary expenses," said Williams.
We ran the possibility of job cuts across Donna Luh, who's an authority board member. She also opposes the toll increase.
"Look in house. Have we gone over enough? Are there any things that we can do? I don't think anything should be off the table [in terms of job cuts and department consolidations]," she said.
Luh says she expects a scaled down toll increase could pass. In the end though, the Thruway needs to get moving. The state budget needs to be passed by the end of March.
Luh says critical time has been lost on these issues. The authority's chair, Howard Milstein has cancelled three meetings since September.
We're still waiting to hear back from him why the meetings were cancelled.