MAYVILLE - The County Legislature's Republican caucus is pushing a motion of support against a toll hike plan on the New York State Thruway.
The 45 percent toll increase for commercial trucks with three or more axles is needed to boost revenue, the Thruway Authority asserts. The state would receive almost $90 million in yearly revenue if the raise, slated to begin Sept. 30, is approved.
But manufacturers, retailers and farmers have condemned the hike, claiming it will push higher costs onto consumers.
"When I first saw it I was outraged," said Legislature Majority Leader Larry Barmore, R-Gerry, of the proposed toll raise. "Whenever we have one of these thing I run it by the caucus. Everyone agreed that something needed to be done. They all signed it."
The motion has been filed with the legislature's Planning and Economic Development Committee and will be discussed next week.
For a trip between Buffalo and Albany, currently $44.70 on the thruway, the plan would raise tolls by $20; for an $88 drive from Buffalo to New York City, the cost would balloon to $127.
"We have already had four price increases in the last seven years," Barmore said. "This madness has got to stop. ... They keep raising it and it keeps raising the price of everything you buy."
Todd Tranum, president and CEO of the county Chamber of Commerce, said any raise in toll prices would have a major impact on consumer-driven products. He noted that many businesses in Chautauqua County rely on transportation for the delivery of products, and increasing distribution costs would hurt the industry.
"This is a tax that hits businesses particularly hard," Tranum said. "Anything that increases the cost of moving product is not good for business."
Added Barmore, "It's going to have a big impact. We're already higher in prices than Pennsylvania, which is higher than everyone else. Gov. Cuomo says New York is open for business, and this is very anti-business."
The governor has not taken a stance on the proposed hike.
But it's not just costs of transportation that has some businesses worried. An increase in truck traffic on non-toll roads may increase with a toll hike.
"The issue will be along Route 5 and Route 20," said Fred Johnson, owner of Johnson Estate Winery in Westfield. "I see it all the time. Trucks get off the thruway because of the tolls. Now there will be a lot more traffic."
Johnson, whose business is located along Route 20, said a toll hike will not have a large impact on his shipping costs. However, he said, safety becomes a bigger problem.
"It would only be a matter of time before someone is killed because of all the increased trucks," he said. "People are also not going to want to come to my business with all the trucks on the roads. Trucks should stick to the thruway."
Tranum, meanwhile, said area businesses in the county should keep an "open dialogue" with their local, state and federal representatives.
"It's critical that they keep that dialogue open and appeal to their representatives," he said.
The motion of support is being sponsored by Barmore; Chairman Jay Gould, R-Ashville; George Borrello, R-Irving; John Runkle, R-Stockton; Robert Stewart, R-Ellington; Vince Horrigan, R-Bemus Point; PJ Wendel, R-Lakewood; Fred Croscut, R-Sherman; David Himelein, R-Findley Lake; John Hemmer, R-Westfield; Mark Tarbrake, R-Ellicott; and Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia.