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AG Wagner blasts Turnpike for debt, policies - abc27 WHTM

Dauphin County

AG Wagner blasts Turnpike for debt, policies

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

He has just a week left in office, but for Auditor General Jack Wagner, that's enough time to criticize management of the Pennsylvania Turnpike for debt, policies and failure to act on his previous recommendations.

"They have basically denied that there's a problem," Wagner said at a Harrisburg press conference Tuesday, perhaps his final press conference after eight years as Auditor General. "There is a problem here and it's a significant problem."

Wagner basically said the turnpike is on the road to financial ruin. Its debt is $8 billion and growing, and it's investing in what Wagner calls risky interest rate swaps.

"If you can't explain what a swap is, then you shouldn't be involved in it," Wagner said. He has repeatedly called for a law that would stop taxpayer dollars and governmental agencies from ever investing in swaps. 

Though turnpike officials dispute Wagner's numbers, the auditor general says the state's toll road lost $109 million on swaps.

"Go ask the city of Harrisburg if they should've been involved in interest rate swaps."

Wagner once again blasted the Turnpike's issuance of free passes to employees and vendors. He says there are 7,600 such passes, and they're not tightly controlled. He raised this concern weeks ago and is frustrated there's been no crackdown.

"Their response to our recommendation in the audit is no response, so they will continue that practice going forward. What we basically said is there's too many free passes. You have to get a handle on the free passes."

Wagner also called on the legislature to change the law that currently requires the turnpike to give $450 million a year to fix roads across the state and fund mass transit in the cities.

He said Act 44 is unfair since it requires turnpike users to fund road projects elsewhere. Wagner said money raised on the turnpike should stay on the turnpike.

Rates on the turnpike increased by 10% for cash users and 2% for EZ pass users on January 6 and are scheduled to increase yearly. It currently costs $39.15 for cash customers and $30.77 for EZ pass customers to travel the full length of the turnpike.

A turnpike spokesman said commissioners appreciate Wagner's audits and they're working to implement some of his recommendations. They do not, however, agree with all of his findings. 

 

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