Now Cuomo says the Port Authority toll hikes were about Ground Zero after all

The governor. (via Livestream)
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Contradicting statements from officials at the Port Authority controlled by him and New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Andrew Cuomo this afternoon said recent toll hikes were directly linked to the cost of redevelopment at Ground Zero.

"Here’s the issue on Ground Zero," said the governor during a press conference today, in response to a question about the delays at the September Memorial and Museum sparked by a $150 million funding dispute. "We have spent a tremendous amount of money to get Ground Zero built. And forget the blame and the delay and whose fault. But it's been billions and billions of dollars over-budget and wasted. So much so that we have to increase the tolls on the Port Authority, and there’s no end in sight."

"At one point, toll increases are just another way of putting your hand in the pocket of the taxpayer," Cuomo continued. "You can call them a tollpayer. Tollpayers, taxpayers, what's the difference? It’s the same pocket. At one point, the answer can’t be, 'Whoops, sorry, we blew another $500 million, we’ll just raise the tolls.' The taxpayer, the tollpayer, is not an endless, bottomless well for government to dip into to cure their incompetence."

Last year, the Port Authority, controversially, raised tolls on cross-Hudson bridges and tunnels, something that's proven particularly unpopular in Staten Island and New Jersey. Though the authority is jointly controlled by Governors Christie and Cuomo and they had dinner together shortly before the toll hike proposal was announced, both denied prior knowledge of the plan.

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And though the authority justified the toll hike by pointing, in part, to construction costs at Ground Zero, after the American Automobile Association filed suit against the Port seeking to overturn the toll hikes, it changed its story, arguing instead that the toll hikes would be used just to fund its interstate transportation network. 

"There's no doubt that in discussing the proposed toll and fare increase, we attempted to describe the overall financial condition of the agency," David Samson, the authority's chairman, said in December. "Inevitably, if you're going to be talking about the overall financial condition of the agency, you're going to talk about security that was added post-9/11 and the World Trade Center redevelopment site. There was to my knowledge, no reference, no specific statement, that said the proposed toll and fare increases were going to some other use, or some other place, other than what the executive director said was the integrated transportation network."

Today, Cuomo also railed against the New York City press, which he argued is downplaying the significance of the cost overruns at Ground Zero. 

"You know, New York City papers, frankly, 'Oh, come on it’s only $500 million?'" said Cuomo. "'Oh, it's only $500 million? Go tell Albany it’s only $500 million, go tell Syracuse it’s only $500 million, go tell Rochester it’s only $500 million?' Go tell Binghamton it’s only $500 million. It’s more money than they’ve gotten from the state in a decade! Only $500, only $400, only $300. You know, we wasted a tremendous amount of money there."

Reached by phone, Robert Sinclair, a spokesman for the AAA, said, "When we submitted our lawsuit, the Port Authority had a change of heart and said the toll hikes weren’t for redevelopment at Ground Zero."

"It’s been our assertion that was the reason they wanted the toll hikes and it continues to be our assertion," he added.