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Blowing through road tolls in NY could soon mean jail time

The Verrazano-Narrows bridge toll plaza on Staten Island,

The Verrazano-Narrows bridge toll plaza on Staten Island, on Feb. 6, 2014. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed that motorists who intentionally evade highway, bridge and tunnel tolls face a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail. (Credit: Anthony Lanzilote)

ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed that motorists who intentionally evade highway, bridge and tunnel tolls face a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail.

The measure is part of Cuomo’s budget package that would raise revenue while combating toll dodging.

The bill would target intentional skipping of tolls and make the crime part of the “theft of services” law. The measure would bring evasion of road tolls in line with the avoiding of tolls and fees on railroads, subways, buses, planes and taxis.

The State Senate has already rejected the misdemeanor in its budget bill, but maintains much of the rest of Cuomo’s proposed penalties and enforcement actions.

The state Division of Budget says $37 million in tolls weren’t collected when they were due in 2013. That’s a steady increase since 2008 when $20 million in tolls were evaded, according to budget records provided to Newsday.

“Toll evaders end up burdening law-abiding motorists and place additional strain on New York’s infrastructure,” Cuomo said. “This proposal will help crack down on these scofflaws, recoup the money rightfully owed to the state, and spare other drivers from having to pick up the tab.”

Most of the toll losses are through the Port Authority of New York-New Jersey.

Last year, nearly $30.6 million in tolls weren’t collected when they were due. By comparison, the statewide Thruway Authority reported $2.2 million in tolls were evaded in 2013.

The biggest problem is with George Washington Bridge between New York City and New Jersey. Last year, $12.9 million in toll violations were reported from the commuter span alone.

Cuomo’s proposal, including the misdemeanor charge, are now part of negotiations for the 2014-15 state budget, which is due April 1.

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