Tighten turnpike policies

Former Auditor General Jack Wagner raised a valid point when he questioned the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’s policies, particularly regarding perks given to its five-member board.

In one of his last audit reports before his term expired Tuesday, Wagner raised a number of issues involving turnpike operations and policies.

Potentially most troubling are the vehicles given to the board members and the lack of accountability and transparency in reimbursements.

Wagner found between January 2007 and August 2011, the commission spent more than $406,000 purchasing new vehicles for the five commissioner positions. Each new vehicle – American-made sedans, station wagons or SUVs – came at a cost of more than $28,000 each.

In addition, commissioners also were reimbursed more than $20,000 in maintenance and $29,000 in fuel costs during that same period. All of those expenses were covered by the tolls that drivers paid.

Another perk that should raise eyebrows is the commissioners weren’t limited in how they used the vehicles paid for by tolls. They were allowed to use them both for their role as commissioner and for personal transportation.

Wagner urged the commission to stop providing cars to the commissioners and instead have them use their personal vehicles and be reimbursed for mileage only for work-related travel.

That’s a reasonable idea.

The commission also should tighten up its policies on expense reimbursement to require detailed receipts, the business purpose of the expense and who was involved.

Commissioners were reimbursed $539,000 for meals, lodging and expenses between January 2007 and August, the audit found.

One of the expenses highlighted in the audit was a $494 bill for a Harrisburg restaurant. What was discussed, who was involved and what was ordered are not known. Receipts and those details were not required. That policy should immediately be changed.

Wagner’s audit also questioned some hotel costs incurred by commissioners, including charges at downtown Harrisburg hotels rather than less-costly accommodations closer to the Turnpike Commission’s headquarters.

This is typical of the “well, it’s not costing me anything attitude” that we’ve unfortunately come to expect from elected and appointed officials.

Instead, Turnpike commissioners should lead by example by making sure all of their expenses are properly documented and designed to keep costs to reasonable levels.

Even though Wagner’s term as auditor general has come to a close, the issues he raised, particularly concerning the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, remain valid.

New Auditor General Eugene DePasquale should continue to monitor the commission to keep the pressure on for it to tighten up its policies when it comes to the perks and reimbursements given to board members.