Two top area Republicans took aim at Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer on Wednesday for working overtime to save New York City's transit fare but shrugging his shoulders on the Thruway Authority's plan to increase tolls.
State Sens. Dale M. Volker of Depew and George D. Maziarz of Newfane both criticized the governor for failing to exercise the same influence over the Thruway Authority that he did in nixing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's plan to increase fares on buses and subways as well as tolls on its bridges and tunnels.
"What is good for New York City commuters should be just as good for Western New York commuters as well," Volker said.
Maziarz said in a letter to Spitzer that his office's explanation of why he could prevent one increase and not another is "unacceptable."
"The governor of this great state -- a state which is much larger than the New York City metropolitan area -- cannot simply shrug his shoulders and say there is nothing he can do about it," Maziarz said. "I implore you to take the same aggressive approach to dealing with the unfair Thruway toll hike that you are taking with the MTA fare hike."
Spitzer spokesman Errol Cockfield on Wednesday reiterated the administration's position that the situation is being monitored closely, but did not directly address the senators' complaints.
"The governor has been urging officials at the Thruway Authority to be as fiscally prudent as possible," Cockfield said. "That means exploring all avenues before putting an increase into effect."
Spitzer's office maintains that the two situations differ because the Thruway Authority is composed entirely of appointees of former Gov. George E. Pataki, while the MTA is now led by a chairman and executive director named by the new governor. As a result, Spitzer said, he can only monitor the Thruway situation for the time being. "I'm not in a position to mandate one way or another what the Thruway Authority does," Spitzer said in Buffalo on Monday.
Volker, however, called Spitzer's approach "disingenuous."
"Just as he did for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority by promising them $600 million," Volker said, "the governor has the ability and the influence to provide additional state resources to the New York State Thruway Authority to eliminate the need for increased tolls for Western New York residents, commuters and tourists."
Indeed, as a candidate for governor in 2006, Spitzer said he would remove the Niagara Thruway tolls that eventually were ended in October 2006.
Spitzer called the 75-cent toll a barrier to jobs and commerce, and an "unfair" tax on the people of Buffalo. "It is wrong, and it will stop," he said in an April 8, 2006, news conference.
In addition, longtime observers of New York governors say an inherent contradiction between theory and practice exists in the relationship between the executive and the state's authorities. Authorities are theoretically created to be autonomous agencies able to withstand gubernatorial pressure, said Gerald Benjamin, dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the State University at New Paltz.
"But essentially, authorities are very substantially responsible to the chief executive," he said, explaining that the governor can always wield influence among those seeking extended terms or favors.
In a book he wrote about downstate regionalism, Benjamin said governors have always wielded exceptional influence over the MTA. "I would accept the argument that he has more influence with the MTA than other authorities, but I do not accept the argument that he has no influence at all with the others," he said.
"To say he is powerless is, on its face, kind of disingenuous. It's hard to believe he can't make some calls."