"A culture of greed, corruption and political influence that is beyond imagination," is how State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan described the latest Pennsylvania Turnpike scandal, which has led to criminal charges against top former Pennsylvania Turnpike officials. Following a three-year investigation, a grand jury found Senate officials used lucrative Turnpike contracts to raise campaign cash creating a culture of "pay-to-play."
Unfortunately, corruption isn't the only problem plaguing the indebted Turnpike Commission. Before leaving office, Auditor General Jack Wagner released a report highlighting the Turnpike Commission's lavish spending. Here are a few of the expenses the audit found:
- More than $450,000 dollars in vehicle expenses for commissioners in a little under five years.
- More than $539,000 dollars in reimbursements for food, living accommodations, and other expenses.
- Free rides for Turnpike employees even for personal travel, which cost the turnpike millions of dollars in revenue.
- Over $4.1 million of toll-free travel to nearly 5,000 consultants, contractors, and other state government officials.
As this profligate spending was taking place, the Turnpike's finances continued to deteriorate. The Turnpike is now over $8 billion in the red. To be fair, waste, fraud and corruption are far from the main cause of the Turnpike's debt.
Given the Turnpike's sordid history and recent scandals, it's time to seriously reconsider eliminating the Turnpike Commission, and leasing the Turnpike to a private operator. Privatization could end the runaway spending, rising costs, and corrupt deals synonymous with the Turnpike while creating a more accountable system for taxpayers.