The Freak Show: Kill The Toll Hikes!

Governor Christie has characterized himself as a thrifty, reasonable watch guard of government spending, and thus far has done a pretty good job of trying to keep spending down. He’s had to fight to get the legislature to cut anything, even in the face of property taxes that are the highest in the nation and in many cases more than double what a comparable property would be taxed in neighboring states such as Pennsylvania.

But he is dropping the ball on this issue, when he recently came out and said the toll hikes proposed by the New York/New Jersey Port Authority may be necessary. And these aren’t modest hikes. The agency has announced a plan to raise the round-trip toll by $4 for E-ZPass users, to $10 off-peak and $12 during rush hour, and by $7 for cash payers, to $15 at all times, followed by an additional $2 hike for all toll payers in 2014, meaning it will cost someone who pays cash $17 to go into New York City, and $14 during peak times for E-ZPass users.

This is crazy. It’s also an economy killing machine. Because truckers will have to raise the cost of shipping products, including food, to cover the cost of the increased tolls. That will lead to higher prices at the supermarket and in malls and stores. And those of us on incomes that aren’t rising in these tough times will have less money to spend on other things, since we’ll have to fork over so much just to get into the city.

“It is absolutely necessary to ensure the financial strength of the Port Authority,” the agency’s executive director, Christopher Ward, said in a statement. I guess he would feel that way, since he has to bring in enough money to pay his salary, which is over $300,000, and that of his fellow Port Authority workers. A government watchdog’s report shows the payroll at the Port Authority grew by more than $15 million between 2008 and 2009. So in these tough economic times when everyone is tightening their belt; they are giving out raises and hiring more people.

The Empire Center for New York State Policy, part of the fiscally conservative Manhattan Institute, reports that 54 Authority employees made more than $200,000 last year. And about 2,600 employees made more than $100,000. The average salary for a worker at Port Authority is a $90,000 a year.

Summer interns make $20 to $22 an hour. For interns! Most company’s pay interns little, if anything. Not at this agency; these interns are making more than what many full-time workers make in the real world. And how much do you want to bet these highly paid interns have “connections,” such as family members and friends that got them these jobs in the first place?

The New York Post reported that Port Authority executives have all been given hefty raises. A few examples include Lillian Valenti, director of procurement, who received $198,328, a 13.3 percent pay increase, and Diana Beecher, chief technology officer, earned $231,192, a 12 percent increase.

It’s also been reported that their offices are the ultimate in luxury. Top of the line carpeting, furniture, and even the bathroom faucets, are said to be those you would find at the Ritz-Carlton hotel.

Governor Christie cited cost overruns at the World Trade Center rebuilding project as one of the reasons for the need to raise tolls. It could be as much as $2.7 billion more than was estimated. Now let me know if I’m off-base here, but the people that estimated the cost were off by that large an amount? They should be fired instantly. That’s so incompetent. Oh yes, I forgot, they work for this government agency that is exempt from fiscal restraint, so they will be given raises instead.

The whole idea of cost overruns boggles my mind. Many of you who read this magazine are musicians. Think of it this way. Let’s say you quote someone a price for a gig in the amount of $1,000. Then you do the gig, and you say to the person that hired you, “The price of gas went up, and I needed new strings, so the cost is now $1,500.” You would be shown the door with a quick kick in the ass. The government needs to get bids on a project, and then make the companies they hire stick to the bid. “Cost overruns” are pure bullshit.

Here’s what they claim: Construction of the centerpiece, 1 WTC Tower, has overrun projections by $186 million. The transportation hub has run $200 million over budget. And undefined “other site infrastructure” work has increased by $422 million. Undefined? What the fuck? They expect us to pay through the nose for “undefined” extra costs? Give me a break!

Port Authority officials also say their plan will yield economic benefits to the region, including 167,000 new jobs, $38.4 billion in sales and $9.7 billion in wages. Okay, then why not raise the tolls even more and give everyone jobs? What is this, a jobs program?

Some people are saying that the Governors involved, Governor Christie and Governor Cuomo of New York are going to get the hikes scaled back, and then claim to have saved the day for the public, when in reality they are using it as a ploy to get increases through while looking like they are fighting against them.

Governor Christie, come to your senses. This is an economic recovery killing, financial hardship inducing, waste of money. Let’s reduce the salaries of these overpaid, underworked Port Authority executives, reduce the size of the workforce, get rid of cost overruns and actually reduce the tolls. That will boost the economy and reduce the cost of goods, and really help the economy of the whole region. Stick to your reputation as a prudent and financially conservative governor. Don’t let these hikes go through.