State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Turnpike Commission in House GOP's crosshairs

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Apr 17, 2013 9:32 PM
Thumbnail image for Turnpike.jpg

Photo by PA Turnpike website

Redundant, mismanaged, and corrupt: those were the charges leveled at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission by state House Republicans, who backing a bill to eliminate the agency.

Several say they’ve been getting an earful from constituents about toll hikes for the past few years, but it was last month’s grand jury report and the resulting indictment of eight people allegedly involved in a “pay to play” scheme at the toll road that has given lawmakers their opening.

Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery) said it’s time to get rid of the Turnpike Commission altogether and bring the roadway under the control of PennDOT.

“This tumor is beyond radiation,” said Vereb. “This tumor has penetrated every household in Pennsylvania and we in the General Assembly are the human punching bags back home to answer the questions for what has been reported.” Vereb has taken this exit before: in 2009, he responded to allegations of political patronage at the Turnpike Commission with legislation to abolish it. The measure did not advance in the House, controlled by Democrats at the time.

Rep. Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion) is the sponsor on this session’s legislation, which she said would have PennDOT assume the management and duties of the Turnpike. Under her measure, union contracts with the Turnpike and employees would remain intact. The commonwealth would assume the Turnpike’s debt of roughly $8 billion – a debt that has ballooned due to a 2007 state law requiring the toll road to fork over hundreds of millions to PennDOT annually.

Turnpike Commission’s CEO Mark Compton isn’t taking a position on the House proposal. During an interview with WESA’s Essential Pittsburgh, he pointed to the reforms he has implemented to root out corrupt practices since the grand jury report’s release. He said cost-saving efforts are also high on his radar, and have been for the last two years.

“I don’t need legislation to tell me that there’s redundancy in the system,” said Compton.

One House Republican, Beaver County’s Jim Christiana, suggested it’s irresponsible to raise fees and fines in an effort to generate money for transportation without first eliminating the Turnpike commission. But Vereb said the effort to bring the Turnpike under the control of PennDOT won’t be tangled up with efforts to pass a transportation funding bill. Moreover, he said, Gov. Corbett is open to the idea.

“I wouldn’t be standing here talking like this if I didn’t think the governor didn’t have an appetite for it,” said Vereb.

He added: “By doing nothing, it’s allowing a culture of corruption to continue.”


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