A national organization representing truckers celebrated a significant victory recently in a longstanding court battle that challenged New York’s use of tolls paid by truckers to finance tourism and recreation projects related to the state canal system, according to a report in the Niagara Gazette.
In a release issued following a ruling by a federal judge who determined that thruway tolls paid by truckers should not be used in support of the state canal system, the American Trucking Associations expressed hope that the state would not only discontinue the practice but dissuade other states from financing “their budget shortfalls” on the backs of the trucking industry as well.
“ATA believed that the courts and constitution were clear – revenue from tolls must be spent maintaining the roads they’re collected on and not diverted to finance bike paths and waterways for recreational kayaking and canoeing,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled in favor of the ATA argument, finding that the “Thruway Authority’s diversion of toll revenue collected from interstate truckers to maintain the Canal System violates the Constitution’s Dormant Commerce Clause.”
The New York State Thruway Authority has overseen the state’s canal system since 1992 and, as of 2012, had provided more than $1.1 billion in state funds to maintain and improve it. The trucking association said those costs had risen to in excess of $100 million annually in recent years.
The judge in the case determined that the state can no longer legally cover canal-related costs with tolls collected from truckers because the practice offers no benefit to the drivers.
“The canal system is a jewel in the crown of the Empire State, and some combination of New York taxpayers, local businesses benefitting from tourism revenue and the actual users of the canal system’s many facilities should want to pay for its upkeep,” the ruling reads. “But … the state of New York cannot insulate the canal system from the vagaries of the political process and taxpayer preferences by imposing the cost of its upkeep on those on drive the New York Thruway in interstate commerce.”
American Trucking Associations is the largest national trade association for the trucking industry. The group filed a lawsuit on behalf of its members in 2010.
“It is certainly true that the canal system is a valuable asset for the state of New York and the communities along it,” said ATA Acting General Counsel Rich Pianka. “However, the residents of the state and those communities – not trucks passing through the state – should bear the burden of supporting the canal.”