(New York, NY - WNYC) Three big numbers are at the heart of the hefty toll and fare hikes proposed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey:
And they all have one thing in common: they pay for construction jobs. That explains why unionized plumbers, carpenters and iron-workers packed a public hearing Tuesday at the Port Authority Bus Terminal to speak in favor of the hikes.
Chris Colombia, a union contractor, said the extra money collected would pay for 185,000 jobs — that's more than the 167,000 jobs the authority claims will be created. But the point, repeated by more than a dozen union members, was the same: "priming the pump" of the local construction industry will be good for the economy.
Predictably, drivers saw the issue differently.
"I understand the need for jobs but let me tell you something," said driver Jason Ertell. "The Port Authority facilitates commerce across the river between these two states — trillions of dollars in every sort of business and every sector that you can imagine in this economy."
Toll and fare hikes, he went on, raises the cost of doing business in New York and New Jersey and that kills jobs.
Both Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie professed initial shock at the notion of non-EZ Pass drivers paying as much as $15 for a round-trip during peak hours and PATH riders absorbing a $1 increase to their fare.
Still, Cuomo said, he understood the Port needed money, and that he would huddle with his appointees on the board to review the proposal.
“The knee-jerk response of, ‘The government needs more money, go to the taxpayer, put your hand in the taxpayers' pocket, take out more money and fund it,'" Cuomo said. "That doesn’t work for me."
But he has not ruled out the hikes. The Port Authority estimates they'd raise $720 million a year and an additional $290 million a year after 2014, when tolls would rise again.
Port Authority executive director Chris Ward has issued a statement that seems aimed at convincing both governors to approve the full increases.
"We recognize that the propose increase is substantial," the statement said. "But it is also absolutely necessary to ensure the financial strength of the Port Authority and to maintain and grow the critical transportation infrastructure that serves the bi-state region."
A similar rationale was given in prefatory remarks by the Port Authority employee overseeing Tuesday morning's public hearing at the bus terminal.
But it didn't convince driver Andrew Holloway, who began his testimony this way: "Hi, ladies and gentlemen. I think we all know somewhere that this proposed increase is insane."