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Turnpike debt

Published August 28. 2012 05:00PM

It wasn't too long ago that state lawmakers contemplated making Interstate 80 part of the Pennsylvania Turnpike system. Thankfully the U.S. Department of Transportation rejected the concept.

An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, carried by The Associated Press, indicates the Pa. Turnpike Commission has become very reckless with spending, but not by choice.

It has racked up $7 billion in indebtedness, up from $4 billion in 2009.

The article in the Inquirer states:

"Required by a 2007 state law to provide billions of dollars for statewide road and bridge repairs and transit operations, the turnpike is spending more money each year than it makes, despite toll increases that have doubled the cost to travel the turnpike over the last 10 years."

It's not the Turnpike Commission that is fully responsible for this fiscal disaster. It is former lawmakers who have demanded that the Turnpike Commissioner extend its spending to include roads beyond the scope of the state roadway.

Tolling I-80 at the time was just a way those same lawmakers were going to rake the motoring public over the coals even more.

The article states: "Highway and bridge projects around Pennsylvania have grown dependent on the money from turnpike tollpayers, and so have transit agencies such as the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority."

In other words, those spending fares on the turnpike are funding Philadelphia's transit system as well as helping our inept financial chiefs in Harrisburg funnel money into projects which have no connection to the toll road at all.

It's another example of disastrous state spending; shoveling money from viable agencies at reckless levels to agencies which can't control their spending. There's no reason the Turnpike Commission should be in such a sorry financial shape.

Worse, it goes to prove how our state lawmakers have taken backdoor measures to obtain funding for their inept budgeting abilities.

Had the tolling of I-80 been approved, it would have been more money that lawmakers would have had to waste.

The financial state of the Pa. Turnpike Commission is deplorable. The situation likely won't improve any time soon.

The article states that turnpike officials say they can manage the finances by continuing to borrow money, raising tolls every year and cutting costs, including soon replacing human toll collectors with all-electronic billing.

Translated, this means indebtedness not only will continue but will increase, meaning the problem won't be resolved. Also, more turnpike employees will be moved to the unemployment lines.

It's not the Turnpike Commission which is to blame for this financial embarrassment. It's the state legislators who set up such an arrangement of robbing a solvent agency to pay for their shortcomings.

At one time, the Turnpike Commission operated fully within its budget.

Again, thankfully the feds didn't let them rob the motoring public on Interstate 80.

By Ron Gower

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