Paying to play at the turnpike is nothing new

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The worst-kept secret in Harrisburg -- that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is infested by pay-to-play rats -- came as no surprise. No-bid contracts and pinstripe patronage have been common practices at the commission, as documented in this publication, numerous media outlets and several audits.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on the turnpike's behavior in a series back in 1997 entitled "Turnpike Run as a Sty for Patronage, Inefficiency." Its editorial board concluded on Oct. 29, 1997, among other findings, that the commission issued or refinanced more than $2 billion in bonds to pay for road projects since 1986 without bids and that the business was split 50-50 between political parties.

• Legislative audits in 1987, 1989 and 1997, as well as the turnpike's internal review in 1996, found serious flaws in hiring practices, noted that human resources did not always play a significant role in labor decisions, and concluded that "sponsor hirings" were common practice. You can't have pay-to-play unless somebody "pays" to play and another body makes the deal while nobody enforces the law.

Why are the businesses who paid to play viewed as victims? Why are Senate staffers who made the deals immune from prosecution as they were in Bonusgate?

Raising tolls will not fix a broken system. It's time we eliminate the turnpike commission, and collapse and consolidate its functions into the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

ERIC EPSTEIN
Harrisburg
Eric Epstein is co-founder of Rock the Capital, a nonpartisan, voter education organization (www.rockthecapital.com).


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