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Business groups have mixed reaction to Port Authority toll hikes

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The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey released a statement today agreeing to the more modest toll increases at Hudson River crossings proposed by Govs. Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo, of New York.

The announcement said a line-by-line review of the bistate agency's capital plan led to a $5 billion reduction, allowing the organization to fiscally stable without the hikes as originally planned.

Under the new plan, tolls will be increased by a total of $4.50 over five years for commuters, a change from a $6.00 hike over four years.

Most business associations opened fire on the agency for aiming to institute hikes, like the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which said the increase in fares was "onerous" regardless of size.

"I will concede that both Governor Christie and Governor Cuomo have done a lot of work to try to make the economies of the two states better," said Michael Durant, the director of NFIB's New York office, but the hike will be particularly painful for small businesses "at this time where everybody is struggling to make ends meet."

"We've got a lot of small operators on both sides of the border who own their own trucks, and they depend on the short-haul business between New York and New Jersey," New Jersey director Laurie Ehlbeck said in a statement. "That business is going to dry up and they're going to be squeezed out by the larger, corporate fleets."

Others saw the agreed-upon increase as a sensible compromise, like John Galandak, president of the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey president, who said the deal effectively balances the concerns of commuters and businesses, while raising "sufficient funds to maintain this valuable infrastructure and expand it to meet the growing demands of the economy."

"The governors' compromise makes certain the revenue will be available, but the increase will be phased in over a longer period, providing predictability and eliminating the sudden steep toll hikes in the original proposal," Galandak said.

Thomas Bracken, president and CEO of the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, stated his organization's continued support for the new plan, adding that "the governors' support, however, is wisely linked to holding the Port Authority more accountable for its business practices."

The governors stipulated that approval of the toll and fare increases would only be done if the authority consented to an audit.

Calls for further comment from Ehlbeck and Galandak were not immediately returned.

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