By Tom Wrobleski
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Staten Island officials are keeping up the fight for a resident discount on the borough's Port Authority bridges in the face of steep toll increases that have recession-weary drivers feeling the pinch.
And one, Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn), is taking the battle against the tolls to court.
Grimm is set to submit an amicus (friend of the court) brief in support of the Automobile Club of America's (AAA) lawsuit against the hikes, filed yesterday.
AAA has said that it is illegal for the Port Authority to use toll funds to rebuild the World Trade Center site, a non-transit project. The group also wants the P.A. to turn over the capital plan that they said justifies the toll hikes.
"I will not stand by and allow residents of Staten Island to be used as the bailout for the Port Authority's debt, mismanagement and overspending," Grimm said.
Grimm also plans to meet with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to ask him to overturn the hike.
Meanwhile, state officials said they are keeping up the pressure, even as Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the P.A. continue to look at resident tolls for the Goethals and Bayonne bridges and the Outerbridge Crossing.
Officials are also looking at giving a break to truckers who regularly use the bridges here to get to the New York Container Terminal in Mariners Harbor.
"I am told they are seriously looking at it," said State Sen. Diane Savino (D-North Shore/Brooklyn). "They can't share any details yet, but they are working on it. I think they realize there is an inequity here with the Island having to use these three bridges."
Until the decision gets made, Ms. Savino said, "We write and we call. We write and we call. It's a never-ending conversation."
Borough President James P. Molinaro has also been lobbying the governor's office for the resident and truckers' discounts.
Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D-Mid-Island) said his office sends a letter to P.A. executive director Christopher Ward every day seeking the discount. He also calls Cuomo's office and the P.A. a couple of times a week.
"At this point, the governor's office has not said no," Cusick said. "I take that as an indication it is being looked at."
State Sen. Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island) has sponsored legislation calling for the resident discount.
But Lanza is also looking at making the Port Authority more accountable to lawmakers so that the authority can't just ram through toll hikes in the future.
"We have to make sure that this doesn't happen again," he said.
He is working with New Jersey Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri to have legislation passed in both states that would give lawmakers more oversight of the P.A.
They are set to announce details of their plan today.
"We want to team up in order to send a louder message to both statehouses," Lanza said. "It's not too late to roll back these toll hikes."
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-East Shore/Brooklyn) also writes regularly to Ward, but acknowledges that the P.A. has "not been responsive."
She said she would like to see the entire Island delegation make a more coordinated effort, including lobbying Cuomo personally.
Ms. Malliotakis also appeared on Fox 5's "Good Day New York" with Ms. Savino to push the resident discount, which she said remains a top priority.
Assemblyman Matthew Titone (D-North Shore) has also been pushing the resident discount issue with Cuomo's staffers.
"We haven't had any response other than the generic 'we're looking at it,'" he said.
Assemblyman Lou Tobacco (R-South Shore) has also lobbied for the resident discount, and has called for a "forensic audit" of the P.A.
"By increasing E-ZPass discounts and reforming the Port Authority, we can enhance access to our region's transportation system while making it more affordable for Staten Island residents," he said.