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Political rivals unite to target tolls Paladino backed in focus on bridges

Though they stood several feet apart, rivals for a seat on the Erie County Legislature joined a prominent developer Monday in presenting a united front toward making travel across the Grand Island bridges toll-free.

With the spans of the south bridge behind them, incumbent Erie County Legislator Michele M. Iannello, D-Kenmore, and Buffalo developer Carl P. Paladino talked with the media about joining efforts to have the 75-cent toll removed.

Standing nearby was Rus Thompson, the Republican-endorsed challenger for the 10th District legislative seat currently held by Iannello.

Paladino, who was instrumental in ending toll collection at two locations on the Niagara Thruway, has turned his focus to the bridges, which he said took in $22 million in revenue for the state last year.

"The primary issue is that these toll booths . . . are very unfair to the citizens of Western New York," Paladino said. "We are not just talking about Grand Island."

Paladino said the tolls are an "insult to the people of Western New York" who are paying to subsidize downstate highways.

He does not fault Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer.

"Blame lies with the careless gluttony and greed of [Assembly Speaker] Sheldon Silver and [Senate Majority Leader] Joseph Bruno, who don't seem to be able to spend enough of the taxpayers' money in the highest-taxed state in America," he said.

Money aside, Paladino said the tolls are responsible for pollution-causing, gas-wasting traffic delays that aggravate motorists.

"This is unacceptable," said Iannello, who described her efforts through governmental channels to have the tolls removed. "We are not going to allow them to take our money. It's just double taxation."

Paladino expressed confidence in the governor being able to help.

"Gov. Spitzer has told me personally that it's his goal to do some unique things for Western New York," Paladino said. "I think, here, he's going to see another opportunity to do a little thing for Western New York."

Paladino said the motivation to remove the tolls isn't political. "I have invited everybody to join us. This is a Western New York effort; it's not political," he said.

Thompson has met separately with Paladino and has begun a petition drive that so far has accumulated 6,000 signatures.

"The more people that sign, the more pressure, the more phone calls, the quicker this thing can get done," Thompson said. "I'm glad more people are getting involved. I've got no problem with anybody."


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