Toll Hike Plan Puts Heat on Cuomo and Christie
By Daniel C. Vock, Staff Writer
Toll hikes on bridges and tunnels proposed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are putting political pressure on the governors of both states the agency serves.
Andrew Cuomo, New York's Democratic governor, called the idea "a non-starter." Republican Chris Christie of New Jersey said his first reaction to the news was: "You're kidding, right?" Either man could veto the toll hikes, but, so far, neither of them have said they would.
"That would mean that hundreds of projects would have to be stopped, that thousands of people would be laid off and that progress on the redevelopment of the World Trade Center site would slow if not stop," Christie said, according to the Star-Ledger . "Governing is about choosing, we have to make choices."
The port authority operates the World Trade Center site, along with major airports, seaports, bridges, tunnels and a commuter rail system. Just one month before the 10-year anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the agency unveiled plans to hike the electronic tolls for three Hudson River crossings from $8 to $12. Drivers paying with cash would owe $15. And fares for the commuter train connecting New Jersey and Manhattan would increase by 65 percent.
The New York Times reported that Cuomo knew of the hikes ahead of time and may have even asked for higher fees, so that he could make a smaller batch of increases more palatable.
"Of course," the Times wrote, "governors often like to step in and halt unpopular increases and fees, and proposals to raise Port Authority tolls tend to start a familiar political dance: the agency puts forward a bracing plan, the public reacts angrily, and governors relish the role of advocate for the overburdened commuter. Usually, a more reasonable compromise is reached."
Both governors denied knowing about the hikes in advance, but many observers are skeptical. That includes Cuomo's predecessor, David Paterson. The former governor, the New York Daily News reports , said he did not buy Christie's categorical denial. And Cuomo's remarks that he would have liked to know more details were more "believable," Paterson said, but not satisfying. "To act like you were there for all this time and you didn't know because nobody told you?" Paterson said. "Here's a good way to solve that: Why didn't you ask?"
The move comes as speculation swirls in Albany that Cuomo is angling to replace the head of the port authority, Chris Ward. The New York Post reported that Cuomo plans to oust Ward after the September 11 anniversary, and that the governor will not even answer Ward's calls. Ward has many fans in the region, but that may be why Cuomo wants to replace him with a loyalist, suggests Capital New York. "Ward's problem, in the end," the online publication writes, "may simply be that he doesn't owe Cuomo his job at the port authority."