Eliminating the PA Turnpike Commission Will Weed Out Government Corruption, Vereb Says
Eliminating the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission will help to lessen the stigma of political patronage and corruption and will bring more accountability to the management of the turnpike, said Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery). He unveiled legislation today, House Bill 2134, that will give oversight and management of the turnpike to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT).
“We need to put an end to the backroom politics as usual mentality and the public perception that all state government is corrupt,” Vereb said. “I came into office three years ago on a reform platform, and I will continue to fight for more transparency and accountability in state government. The fact that the Turnpike Commission is widely known as a pit of political patronage is a completely unacceptable reputation for any state government agency to have.”
Under Vereb’s legislation, the responsibility and daily management of the turnpike will go to the deputy secretary of toll administration under PennDOT. To alleviate the potential for political patronage, candidates for the deputy secretary position would be required to have a civil engineering degree and at least 10 years’ experience designing and building highways.
Over the past year, the Turnpike Commission has been shrouded in a cloud of corruption and scandal. Recent reports have confirmed that a state grand jury is investigating the Turnpike Commission’s awarding of contracts. The commission is currently under investigation for play-to-pay contracts, including a construction project costing more than $170 million in the Valley Forge Area that was originally bid at $90 million. Other reports of unprofessional conduct include former Turnpike Commission Chairman Mitchell Rubin. During the public corruption trial involving former Sen. Vince Fumo (D-Philadelphia) it was revealed that Rubin had a contract with the state and did little to no work for the salary received. Rubin, a personal friend of Fumo’s, was eventually removed from the position after Fumo was found guilty.
Vereb went on to mention that the organizational setup of the commission has led to an agency that is top heavy, with too many managers directing few employees.
To compare, PennDOT is run by seven executives and manages more than 41,000 miles of roadway. That equals one executive for every 5,857 miles of state roadway. The Turnpike Commission is run by nine executives and is in charge of 545 miles of roadway. That equals one executive for every 60 miles of roadway on the turnpike. Also, PennDOT uses internal staff to act as government liaisons with the General Assembly, whereas the Turnpike Commission hires contract lobbyists at significant cost.
Vereb’s legislation will only cut upper tier management positions; all other turnpike jobs will remain intact.
“The Turnpike Commission is an outdated and antiquated agency,” Vereb added. “There is absolutely no reason why we should have two government organizations dealing with transportation issues. The common goal of improving Pennsylvania’s transportation networks can be done under the management of one state agency. By moving the oversight of the turnpike under PennDOT, we will cut down on government bureaucracy, decrease administrative costs and bring more accountability to the people of this Commonwealth.”
If House Bill 2134 is signed into law, PennDOT must honor any collective bargaining agreement in existence between the Turnpike Commission and any employee organization. Also, the legislation stipulates that the Commonwealth will assume the debt of the outstanding bonds of the Turnpike Commission and will use the turnpike tolls for repayment of the debt.
“Taking on an institutional habit is going to be an uphill battle, but I was elected by my constituents to stand up for what’s right and fight the good fight,” Vereb continued. “With all of state government under scrutiny, now is not the time to sit back and be complacent. Real reform means making tough choices to change the way business is done in Harrisburg. It is time to stand up and make important changes to bring accountability and transparency to how state government operates.”
Rep. Mike Vereb
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Contact: Tricia Graham