Toll on integrity: The turnpike chairman owes the public an answer

Finally! We were beginning to wonder if anybody is paying attention to the role of the Turnpike Commission’s Chairman in Sen. Fumo’s 139-count federal indictment.

Although the Turnpike Commission claims that Chairman Mitchell Rubin’s alleged role in defrauding the taxpayers of $150,000 is not relevant to the toll road, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial board begs to differ:

The turnpike is an instrument of state government with four commissioners appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate (the fifth is the transportation secretary) to oversee the state’s 537-mile system and its $593 million in annual tolls collected. They are positions of trust that should be filled by people with integrity. The commissioners serve part-time but they receive generous compensation, like Chairman Rubin’s $28,500 a year.

The history of the Pennsylvania Turnpike is already pockmarked with patronage and politics. To have its chairman named as a ghost employee of a senator under indictment only adds to that shabby lore.

Mitchell Rubin has not been charged, but his characterization by federal prosecutors cries out for a public explanation. It might even call for a leave of absence.

We, of course, think it requires much more than “a leave of absence”. Simply changing patronage bosses does nothing to improve the operation of the road or end the scandals. But leasing the Turnpike to a private operator would. Not only would it abolish the Turnpike Commission, it would generate more transportation funding than the corrupt Commission ever will.