Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pennsylvania Turnpike Workers Get A Free Ride With EZ-PASS Abuse

A Republican senator is hopping mad over abuse by certain Pennsylvania Turnpike workers who abuse their EZ-PASS privileges. According to Ashley Manning at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Rafferty, R-Chester County stated that if the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission don't stop its employees from using the passes inappropriately he will.

"Were going to have make some changes on that, whether they like it or not," Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Rafferty, R-Chester County, said Wednesday.

About 2,100 turnpike employees ride the toll road for free, even when they're on vacation, Turnpike CEO Joe Brimmeier said. Many use passes for E-ZPass, and others show ID cards.

The issue surfaced at a committee hearing when Rafferty asked whether turnpike workers receive perks. The agency recently raised tolls by 10 percent for cash customers and 3 percent for E-ZPass users.

Transgressions at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission are nothing new. Look at this report from the Pennsylvania Independent about a whistleblower lawsuit.

A former employee has filed suit against the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, accusing commission officials of a litany of violations, including his own termination.

The lawsuit names Turnpike Commission Director of Accounting Anthony Maun, Turnpike Commission Chief Financial Officer Nikolaus Grieshaber, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission as defendants.

Ralph M. Bailets was employed by the Turnpike Commission from 1998 through 2008 as Manager of Financial Reporting and Systems, a supervisory position, and also as Assistant Secretary Treasurer. He was laid off in November 2008 for "alleged budgetary reasons", according to documents filed in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania on May 15.

While employed by the Turnpike Commission, Mr. Bailets says he became aware of violations in the bidding process that allowed one contractor, Ciber, Inc., to have an unfair advantage over other bidders. According to court documents, Mr. Bailets reported these violations to his superiors in December 2004, only to be told by Mr. Maun to not say anything about it.

After Ciber, Inc., was awarded that contract, Mr. Bailets filed several reports with his superiors noting deficiencies in Ciber's performance. Mr. Bailets alleges that Mr. Maun threatened his job if he made "any waves" with regards to the work being done by Ciber.

As of the filing of the lawsuit, Ciber, Inc. had more than $82 million in contracts with the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. Ciber is an IT firm based in Colorado that specializes in infrastructure planning and consulting.

Is there any part of Pennsylvania government that isn't corrupt?

Former Governor Richard Thornburgh wrote this Op-Ed last December recommending the abolition of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

During my campaign for governor more than 30 years ago, I made a pledge to restore integrity and efficiency to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

It was clear that fixing PennDOT was a necessity. The citizens of the commonwealth agreed, having faith in my pledge, and elected me governor. Shortly after beginning my first term, I began a thorough reconstruction of PennDOT.

Working with Secretary of Transportation (and future Federal Highway Administration head) Tom Larson, I ignored all threats of political retribution and scrubbed PennDOT clean of graft and corruption. The difficult task of fixing PennDOT was a resounding success.

In 1981, PennDOT was recognized as “one of the best managed — and financed — public works agencies in the country” by trade magazines. Larson was recognized as man of the year. That was nearly 30 years ago.

Today, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has replaced PennDOT as a dumping ground for the institutionalized entitlement we helped eradicate.

The top heavy turnpike commission, with more than 2,000 employees, is responsible for overseeing an exponentially smaller infrastructure than PennDOT. The turnpike commission manages 537 miles of turnpike highways; PennDOT manages nearly 40,000 highway miles and tens of thousands more miles of local roads, railways and bridges. There is an obvious opportunity to merge the two and save a wealth of money.

Recent convictions and investigations have made it clear that abuse of tax dollars is a turnpike tenet. Mitchell Rubin, the previous chairman of the turnpike commission, was fired in connection to a bogus $150,000 contract he accepted while presiding as chair. Rubin’s connections to imprisoned former Sen. Vincent Fumo paid well for Michael Palermo, a convicted criminal and Fumo protege. The turnpike commission staffer reaped a benefit of more than $287,000 in a no-work contract from 1999 to 2004. Currently, the turnpike commission is the subject of an FBI investigation related to a $181 million project in the Valley Forge area that was reportedly originally bid for $90 million.

Considering our recent state budget fiasco and economic climate, a serious tightening of the belt in state spending is needed. Pennsylvanians deserve a dollar’s worth of service for every tax dollar spent — their money must be spent with thrift and strict oversight. Millions of tax dollars in savings could be realized if the state Legislature were to dissolve this bloated bureaucracy and move its functions into PennDOT.

There comes a time when merely mending a faulty appendage is not enough. Like a gangrenous limb, irreparable agencies chockablock with corruption must be severed.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is one such agency.
The turnpike commission is a haven for those who wish to gorge themselves upon commonwealth tax dollars and load the payroll for political purposes. This type of patronage abuse has no place in Pennsylvania politics. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission should be abolished.

Amen. After two years of budget impasses why aren't our legislators following the sage advice of such a learned man?

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