Democratic state Auditor General Jack Wagner said Thursday that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is "drowning in debt" and its existence is "in jeopardy," a fear the commission quickly tried to squelch.
Mr. Wagner sent a letter to legislators asking them to amend or repeal Act 44, which requires the turnpike commission to give $450 million each year to the state Department of Transportation to help fund roads, bridges and transit projects. Since the act went into effect, the turnpike commission's long-term debt has risen from $2.6 billion to $7.3 billion and Mr. Wagner said he feared that taxpayers would be burdened if the commision were to default.
"No entity can continue to operate with significant increases in long-term debt and the continued serious depletion of assests caused by Act 44," Mr. Wagner said.
Turnpike commission CEO Roger Nutt, however, said in a statement that the "continued existence of the Turnpike Commission is not in jeopardy" because the group "has developed a sound, fiscally responsible approach to meet all of its financial obligations" for at least the next three years -- a pland that depends upon annual toll hikes.
Mr. Nutt said he might be open to discussing amendments to Act 44 because the commission might not be able to raise tolls every year for an extended period of time.