One of the perks of being an appointed member of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is you get a free car.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Wednesday that tollpayers bought commission Chairman William Lieberman a 2013 Jeep Cherokee for nearly $40,000 on Dec. 28. That's just days before the latest toll increase took effect.

Lieberman, a Pittsburgh insurance executive, handed down the 2012 model he got a year earlier to fellow Commissioner Pasquale "Pat" Deon. The other two commissioners, Michael Pratt and William Lincoln, drive 2011 Ford Explorers that cost $33,945 apiece.

State Transportation Department Secretary Barry Schoch serves as the fifth commission member. He does not receive a salary from the commission and, according to PennDOT, drives his own Chrysler 300.

Between Jan. 1, 2007, and Aug. 31, 2011, the turnpike spent $406,497 buying new cars for commissioners, $29,642 on fuel and $20,328 on maintenance. That excludes the cost of the new Jeep for Lieberman, whose salary as chairman is $28,500.

In contrast, the commissioners of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority get no free cars, no salaries, no free passes for tolls and no reimbursement for using their own vehicles, according to NJTA spokesman Thomas Feeney.

Who makes the policies regarding such generous payment for serving on an appointed commission? Just a few years ago, the officials of the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission were exposed for going to the Bahamas and other luxurious locales for conventions and meetings.

Do our state lawmakers have any authority over these appointed commissions?

Not only do the Turnpike Commission members get the free cars, but the fuel and maintenance for them, too.

While the Inquirer exposed the Turnpike Commission officials, what perks to appointed members of other commissions and agencies receive?

Every year fees for riding on the Pennsylvania Turnpike increase. While obviously indebtedness and obligations to the state account for such increases, it's obvious the public is still being taken for a ride considering the lavish expenses made on the commission officials.

It's time such wasteful spending is brought to a halt. There's no reason the Turnpike officials - or any other appointed agency member - should be given a free car with fuel and maintenance.

Aren't our lawmakers cognizant of such perks? Don't they care?

Free fares and expense reimbursements should be adequate.

By RON GOWER

rgower@tnonline.com