Thruway drops toll hike

Public pressure leads authority to turn to cuts instead of trucks

— The Thruway Authority’s adopted 2013 budget, Madison said, holds “substantial financial savings” and its operating expenses are 21 percent lower than in this year.

“Our 2013 budget will put the authority on solid financial footing and it will avert the need for a toll increase,” Madison said. “As we realize budget savings and manage the authority better and differently, we’re also setting the stage to build big things again.”

An independent audit of the authority’s books and management revealed decades-old financial practices that were “risky, reckless and lacked transparency,” Madison said. Without changes, he said its “high A” credit rating likely would have been downgraded.

Madison said initial discussions with credit agencies on its plan were received positively. He expects to meet again with rating agencies in January to fully describe the financial plan.

“We reopened our books … we found additional savings and reforms and opportunities to improve the ways we conduct business at the authority,” Madison said.

Some of the cost-saving measures involve cutting $25 million in operating costs this year, with more than $130 million in savings and fiscal reforms over the next three years. Also, $900 million in “risky, short term” debt would be eliminated. From 2011 to 2013, the authority will eliminate 361 positions, reducing its workforce by around 6 percent.

The authority is eliminating reimbursement for State Police expenses, which began in 1954. The $60 million cost to maintain Troop T, which patrols the Thruway, will be picked up by the state.

The authority also plans to pursue other cuts, such as reducing its vehicle fleet and shifting employee benefits.

Madison said public pressure to eliminate the toll increase did affect the authority’s decision to look for additional cost savings to avoid it.

“Of course it had an impact on our deliberations,” Madison said.

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