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Pa. Turnpike Scandal: Officials Got $28,000 Cars

Turnpike tolls and debt went up for five years while men running the major highway received new cars worth $28,000

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG – So what if you have to pay a little extra to use the state’s major east-west highway? At least the guys at the top have sweet rides.

Tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike have increased for five consecutive years and the highway’s debt burden has ballooned by more than 200 percent since 2007.  At the same time, the men charged with running the turnpike received new cars valued at more than $28,000 each and were reimbursed for the cost of gas and maintenance, according to an audit released by Auditor General Jack Wagner last week.

Turnpike tolls increased on January 6.

The Turnpike Commission spent more than $406,000 purchasing vehicles for commissioners between January 2007 and August 2011, according to the audit.  The turnpike did not limit those vehicles exclusively to work-related purposes.

The vehicles were American-made sedans, station wagons and sport-utility vehicles valued at more than $28,000 each.

In addition to cars they could use on personal time, the commissioners were also reimbursed for more than $20,000 in maintenance costs and $29,000 in fuel costs during that period, according to the audit.

In total, the Turnpike Commission spent more than $450,000 in vehicle expenses for commissioners in less than five years from January 2007 through August 2011, the period covered in the audit.

“We found no convincing reason to allow commissioners to use commission-purchased vehicles for personal use,” the auditors wrote.

During a news conference Tuesday, Wagner said the turnpike should stop giving cars to commissioners and instead offer mileage reimbursements for work-related travel.

“Rather than giving a commissioner an automobile, pay them for mileage,” Wagner said. “We think minor items like that are very significant because it defines the culture of the turnpike and the Turnpike Commission.”

On top of the vehicle expenses, commissioners rang up a total of $539,000 in reimbursements for meals, lodging and other expenses, the audit found.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is a five-member governing body, with four members selected by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. The state Secretary of Transportation serves as the fifth member of the commission.

Commissioners are paid the relatively modest salary of $26,000 for their positions, which require them to be on-duty 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

But they seem to make up for the modest salaries with expense accounts that auditors deemed “overly generous and permissive.”

Commissioners do not fill out timesheets or otherwise document their work hours, auditors wrote, making it impossible to verify the turnpike’s claim that its commissioners are on-call around-the-clock.

“Let’s face it, the commissioners are the leaders and they need to be cost-efficient for the turnpike to be cost-efficient,” Wagner said during a Tuesday news conference.

In a written response to the audit, the Turnpike Commission’s acting CEO Craig Shuey said the report gave the agency “additional areas to consider as a part of our long-term strategy to position the organization for future challenges; as such, each will be given the appropriate level of attention as we continue to modernize our operations and readjust our priorities.”

However, the written response did not specifically address the issue of vehicles for commissioners. Turnpike spokesman Carl Defebo said the agency had no additional comment at this time.

The audit does not name specific vehicles purchased or which commissioners benefited from the tollpayer-funded expenses.

Wagner said he has a policy against “naming names” in audits because people holding various public offices can change over time.

The audit also found that the turnpike commission had reimbursed commissioners for the cost of purchasing cell phones, cell phone equipment and mobile Internet service on occasion.

There are no monetary limitations on travel reimbursements and the turnpike allowed commissioners to have complete autonomy regarding their expenses and vehicle usage, the auditors reported.

“We believe government officials should be held to a higher standard and that excessive and undocumented expenses should not be permitted nor reimbursed,” they concluded. “The Turnpike Commission needs to be fully transparent regarding expenses incurred by its commissioners, and moreover, commissioners need to be held accountable for those expenses.”

each and were reimbursed for the cost of gas and maintenance, according to an audit released by Auditor General Jack Wagner this week.

 

TURNPIKE: Drivers are paying more to use the Pennsylvania Turnpike, but the executives charged with running the highway got new cars paid for with toll revenue.

The Turnpike Commission spent more than $406,000 purchasing vehicles for commissioners between January 2007 and August 2011, according to the audit.  The turnpike did not limit those vehicles exclusively to work-related purposes.

The vehicles were American-made sedans, station wagons and sport-utility vehicles valued at more than $28,000 each.

In addition to cars they could use on personal time, the commissioners were also reimbursed for more than $20,000 in maintenance costs and $29,000 in fuel costs during that period, according to the audit.

In total, the Turnpike Commission spent more than $450,000 in vehicle expenses for commissioners in less than five years from January 2007 through August 2011, the period covered in the audit.

“We found no convincing reason to allow commissioners to use commission-purchased vehicles for personal use,” the auditors wrote.

During a news conference Tuesday, Wagner said the turnpike should stop giving cars to commissioners and instead offer mileage reimbursements for work-related travel.

“Rather than giving a commissioner an automobile, pay them for mileage,” Wagner said. “We think minor items like that are very significant because it defines the culture of the turnpike and the Turnpike Commission.”

On top of the vehicle expenses, commissioners rang up a total of $539,000 in reimbursements for meals, lodging and other expenses, the audit found.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is a five-member governing body, with four members selected by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. The state Secretary of Transportation serves as the fifth member of the commission.

Commissioners are paid the relatively modest salary of $26,000 for their positions, which require them to be on-duty 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

But they seem to make up for the modest salaries with expense accounts that auditors deemed “overly generous and permissive.”

Commissioners do not fill out timesheets or otherwise document their work hours, auditors wrote, making it impossible to verify the turnpike’s claim that its commissioners are on-call around-the-clock.

“Let’s face it, the commissioners are the leaders and they need to be cost-efficient for the turnpike to be cost-efficient,” Wagner said during a Tuesday news conference.

In a written response to the audit, the Turnpike Commission’s acting CEO Craig Shuey said the report gave the agency “additional areas to consider as a part of our long-term strategy to position the organization for future challenges; as such, each will be given the appropriate level of attention as we continue to modernize our operations and readjust our priorities.”

However, the written response did not specifically address the issue of vehicles for commissioners. Turnpike spokesman Carl Defebo said the agency had no additional comment at this time.

The audit does not name specific vehicles purchased or which commissioners benefited from the tollpayer-funded expenses.

Wagner said he has a policy against “naming names” in audits because people holding various public offices can change over time.

The audit also found that the turnpike commission had reimbursed commissioners for the cost of purchasing cell phones, cell phone equipment and mobile Internet service on occasion.

There are no monetary limitations on travel reimbursements and the turnpike allowed commissioners to have complete autonomy regarding their expenses and vehicle usage, the auditors reported.

“We believe government officials should be held to a higher standard and that excessive and undocumented expenses should not be permitted nor reimbursed,” they concluded. “The Turnpike Commission needs to be fully transparent regarding expenses incurred by its commissioners, and moreover, commissioners need to be held accountable for those expenses.”

Jenn January 15, 2013 at 03:18 AM
Terri, it is funny how you simply agreed with the comment. Maybe you feel I was harsh because you are feeling a little defensive. I am not rich, but I am SOOO sick of hearing people complain about the rich. There are bad rich people and bad poor/middle class people. Not all rich people are looking to screw the poor. I assume I am allowed to air my views...just saying! Maybe next time you will think a little before jumping on the band wagon.
Terri Macauley January 15, 2013 at 03:32 AM
Plain nonsense on your part & I agreed with nothing you have said, your rude wording & anger issues should be aired elsewhere, just saying!
Jenn January 15, 2013 at 03:40 AM
Sorry, I didn't realize I wasn't allowed to join the discussion and offer a different point of view. I guess you can continue to make sweeping judgements about people without proof. Of course you can all be nasty, but it's ok because you all agree with each other. I will move on and let the ignorance continue. Enjoy...ignorance is bliss! :)
Driven crazy January 15, 2013 at 04:40 AM
This is such a non-issue. When I read "scandal" this morning, I thought something serious was happening. C'mon people, honda's are $30,000 these days. It's not like they were given a Lexus or Mercedes. These expenses, while probably excessive are a far cry from scandalous. patch is getting desperate for ratings and all they have to so is simply post more news on-line than Lehigh valley live or morning call. We just want to read the news, not sensationalized headlines. That's what CNN is for.
Jennifer Moyer February 11, 2013 at 01:34 PM
Spending the toll money on the commissioners is probably more helpful to TP users than spending the money on mass transit in Philadelphia. If the money is spent on commissioners there is a chance the quality of people willing to serve as commissioners is improved. Spending the toll money on Philadelphia mass transit is a misallocation of resources.

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