Today’s article about New York’s finest (and I’m not referring to the police, who are fine men and women) comes courtesy of the Buffalo News. The Thruway Authority announced yet another regrettable but necessary increase in tolls, the second since January. There are two more slated for 2009 and 2010. When I visit my sons in the Albany area it will now cost me $25 round trip just to use 280 miles of I-90.
Will I pay it? Sure. Will I like it? Hell no. I’ll probably drive with disdain.
The Thruway is not anything to be proud of. Despite some trucker’s claim that it is one of the best maintained highways in the country, it is a dull, nonscenic and monotonous ride; and to me feels safer only because of the lack of traffic on it relative to the bustling highway systems in other states. Unlike my occasional trips through Ontario to Port Huron – which tend to fly by – the trip to Albany is seemingly endless. They are the same length. One is a joy to drive; the other is a bore.
What struck me while reading wasn’t the Thruway toll hike. It was the statement that Assemblyman Mark Schroeder made about “the explosion of authorities in new York, which he estimated at 640.” These authorities are beholden to no one, and historically have been used for patronage jobs and as off-books loan vehicles so that the state government can avoid going to referendum as mandated by the state constitution. The Thruway Authority just happens to be today’s whipping boy; deservedly so. But 640 authorities? When is this nonsense going to end? What did New Yorkers do to deserve this kind of punishment?
A quick look at the Thruway Authority’s 2008 budget reveals that it takes 3,119 employees to manage and maintain the Thruway system, about 5 employees per mile, year in, year out. Salaries and salary-related costs make up almost half of the $1.1B budget. What is way out of whack are the fringe benefits: Health insurance, vacation time, sick time and other perks, are again 50 percent additional cost on top of salary. To put it another way: If the average salary were $55,000 (it is, before overtime adds an additional $3,500 to it) then fringe benefits amount to $27,000 per person. As a business person I could buy my employees the very, very best health insurance policy, load on generous vacation and sick time benefits, put a coffee pot in every office and free soda in the soda machine, and I could still not come close to the cost of the Authority’s fringe benefit package. State employees must get take-home gold every day, or something equivalent.
This has gotten way out of hand. Without the word profitability in the state equation, the words efficiency and accountability appear meaningless.