Thruway Authority revises budget

| Times Herald-Record

The New York State Thruway Authority revised its 2015 budget Monday to reflect the infusion of $1.285 billion in state funds.

The one-time bonanza, part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s disposition of the $5.5 billion windfall that New York received in settlements from wayward banks, eliminates the need for the authority to borrow money this year to continue building the new Tappan Zee Bridge and saves at least $44 million in debt service.

Robert Megna, the new executive director of the authority, used the opportunity to do a wholesale overhaul of the operating and capital spending blueprints adopted in December.

“We’re in a balanced place now,’’ said Megna, adding the 2015 revisions also set the stage for future authority budgets.

For example, the budget’s long-term spending forecasts have now been revised downward to match projected revenue from current toll policies – the source of 90 percent of the authority’s funds. Previously, the gap between them widened so much by 2019 that the Empire Center suggested tolls would have to jump 44 percent Thruway-wide to close it.

The 2015 budget still doesn’t include a toll increase – or any hint of how much tolls will eventually have to rise to cover the $3.9 billion cost of replacing the TZB or maintaining the rest of the 570-mile system.

Megna and his chief financial officer, Matt Howard, outlined a complicated set of pluses and minuses to achieve a balanced and “transparent” budget of $1.9 billion, or 8 percent lower than what the authority adopted in December. The $1.3 billion in capital spending in the budget is also 8 percent lower.

The TZB will claim $909 million of the capital spending this year, $750 million of it from the state funds. The remainder will go to more than 35 other highway and bridge projects.

One noticeable change is the elimination of $31 million earmarked in December for the conversion of the Yonkers and Harriman toll plazas to all-electronic tolling. The change reflects the uncertainty of winning stiffer penalties for toll cheats from state legislators – and a desire to contain the authority’s potential losses from a system that sends motorists without E-ZPass accounts bills in the mail for their tolls.

© 2015 Times Herald-Record