The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

January 8, 2013

Wagner makes final plea: Fix turnpike commission

HARRISBURG — State Auditor General Jack Wagner devoted his final press conference to one last plea that someone pay attention to the debt crisis at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. Wagner leaves office at the end of the week, and newly elected auditor general Eugene Dipasquale will replace him.

Wagner has criticized the financial management of the turnpike commission as well as the state’s bungled Act 44 plan that required the turnpike commission to begin paying the Department of Transportation millions of dollars in exchange for the right to add tolls on Interstate 80.

The federal government forbid Pennsylvania from tolling I-80, but the turnpike commission has been making its payments, running up a debt that has exceeded $8 billion, Wagner said.

But the turnpike commission has contributed to its problems through risky financial practices, such as an interest rate swap that ended up costing the turnpike commission $108.9 million, a cost that the auditor general said will end up being passed along to taxpayers and toll-paying motorists.

The turnpike commission has also been lax about requiring that its employees only use commission-issued EZ passes for work purposes.

On top of all that, auditors found that the turnpike officials spent $60,000 on meals and lodging during the four-year period reviewed.

Auditors reviewed 183 travel expense vouchers, which contained incomplete or vague descriptions of the business purpose and generally did not include receipts, the auditor’s report found. Wagner’s staff pointed to three specific instances – a July 2009 meal at a restaurant close to the turnpike headquarters that cost $174.56; a June 2009 meal in Hershey that cost $135.68; and a February 2010 meal at a restaurant in Harrisburg that cost $494.10.

“As Harrisburg-based auditors, we know the above examples to be relatively expensive meal charges,” the report states. “For example, for a restaurant tab to total nearly $500, we would hope it represented a meal for a large group of people conducting turnpike business and involving no alcohol. However, because the expense voucher included no mention as to the number of attendees or the purpose of the meal, we could not determine that.”

At the press conference, Wagner said the spending found in the audit “defines the culture of the turnpike system.”

Turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo said that the spending found by the auditors related to travel and meetings by turnpike officials during the period when the commission was trying to convince the public and the federal government to go along with the bid to toll Interstate 80.

In a response issued after Wagner’s comments, turnpike acting CEO Craig Shuey said the commission has taken steps to correct most of the problems auditors found and is a “well-run operation.”

“While we disagree necessarily upon the weight of each of your recommendations, it is clear to me that when system safety and provision of services are considered, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is performing as should be expected.”

Shuey said that in response to the auditors’ concerns about accountability for employee travel, turnpike commission staff agree that improvements need to be made.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local News
  • Flower2 Flowers' color doesn't have to fade

    Those pots of bright yellow daffodils, Easter lilies and hyacinths gracing the home this weekend do not have to end up in the trash bin when the blooms start to fade.

    April 20, 2014 2 Photos

  • Refinancing could lower Richland School District's debt by $2.2M

    When Richland School District borrowed funds for its high school project a decade ago, board members circled “2014” on their calendars as a likely first option to refinance the debt.

    April 20, 2014

  • Pipeline to carry shale byproducts

    An 8-inch transmission line crossing Pennsylvania, including four municipalities in Cambria County, is being repurposed to carry some of the by-products from Marcellus and Utica shale production.

    April 20, 2014

  • Judge Creany, Timothy Vets courts gain support

    Signs of success are mostly anecdotal in Pennsylvania’s special courts for veterans, but judicial officials and lawmakers are so convinced of the program, they’re lobbying to expand it.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • pow21 Person of the Week: ‘I wanted to help’: Teen uses birthday to show love for children, animals

    Anastasia Machik’s love for children and animals inspired her to forgo her birthday gifts for the sake of the two.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Students taking steps to call attention to child abuse

    An upcoming community walk will help raise awareness of child abuse.

    April 20, 2014

  • In brief: PennDOT reports weekly work schedule

    April 20, 2014

  • District Deaths April 21, 2014

    April 20, 2014

  • Halfway house inmates can ease back into society

    Prison life can be a time warp.
    When inmates are locked away – for months, years, decades – society moves forward: Technology evolves, major events occur, pop culture changes. From a personal perspective, families and friends live their lives: weddings, funerals, graduations, births, retirements. All the while, criminals bide their time, existing in a regimented world of cement walls and metal bars.
    Almost all of them eventually rejoin society, though.

    April 19, 2014

  • Crime board took aim at house

    Johnstown’s unemployment rate is around 8 percent.
    One-third of the city’s population lives in poverty.
    Burglaries and assaults significantly increased between 2010 and 2012. There is a thriving illegal trade in heroin and prescription drugs.
    Given those conditions, it can be challenging for Johnstown Community Corrections Center residents to find jobs when living in the facility or to avoid falling back into a criminal lifestyle upon their release.

    April 19, 2014

Poll

Would you like to see the Johnstown Community Corrections Center remain open after its lease runs out on Oct. 11, 2015?

Yes
No
I'm not sure
     View Results
House Ads