Measure in Cuomo budget would make toll dodging a misdemeanor

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is joined by local officials Gov. Andrew Cuomo is joined by local officials to talk about a property tax freeze at the Capitol on Monday, March 17, 2014 in Albany. Photo Credit: Albany Times Union / Lori Van Buren

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ALBANY -- Motorists who dodge tolls on highways, bridges and tunnels in New York could be driven to jail if Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has his way.

The measure is a provision buried in Cuomo's budget package. He said it would recoup millions of dollars in lost tolls and make intentional toll dodging a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

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The bill make dodging part of the "theft of services" law. The measure would bring evasion of road tolls in line with the avoiding of tolls, fees and fares on railroads, subways, buses, planes and taxis.

The State Senate and Assembly have already rejected the misdemeanor element in their budget bills, but maintain much of the rest of Cuomo's proposed penalties and enforcement actions, including loss of driver's license.

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."

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

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

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.

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