Auditor General Blasts Turnpike’s “Free Rides”

Auditor General Jack Wagner wants the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to stop giving employees and vendors toll-free personal travel.  “They can utilize the Turnpike at will, both for work-related purposes and for free personal use,” Wagner told a crowd of reporters gathered in a Finance Building conference room.  “In our first finding, we basically state that the free personal use should be eliminated.” 

Wagner was previewing an upcoming audit report, which shows the Turnpike gave out a total of $7.7-million dollars worth of free rides between January 2007 and August 2011.  While the Turnpike has no mechanism for differentiating between on-the-job and personal travel, Wagner says the issue – at least – begs for more oversight. 

Pointing to next month’s toll hike, Wagner says the Turnpike should be doing everything it can to hold down fares for its customers.  Wagner’s letter to the Turnpike Commission asks for a written response that he can include in the final report, which is due out before he leaves office next month.  A Turnpike spokesman says the letter was received Monday afternoon, and a draft of Wagner’s report is currently under review.

RadioPA Roundtable

Radio PA Roundtable 11.16.12

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Brad Christman brings you legislative reviews from the Pennsylvania Farm bureau and the state Senate Majority Leader. Also, PA Auditor General Jack Wagner releases a 100+ page report on Penn State University and AAA weighs in on how Sandy will impact Thanksgiving travel this week and used car sales in the coming months.


Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting on the top news stories of the week.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:


Wagner Releases Special Report on Penn State Governance

Nearly four months after he first went public with his preliminary recommendations, Auditor General Jack Wagner has released a 124-page special report on governance at Penn State University.  It includes nine chapter and two-dozen recommendations. 

“No matter what the board may say, in terms of changes they’ve made, very little structural government changes have occurred,” Wagner said at a state capitol news conference.  “It’s pretty much the same operation that existed on November 4th, 2011, the day before Jerry Sandusky was arrested.” 

Chief among Wagner’s recommendations is his call for the university president to be removed as a voting member of the Board of Trustees.  “Penn State has invested too much power, almost unlimited power – and I repeat – almost unlimited power in its president.”  Wagner declined to comment about the charges recently filed against ex-Penn State president Graham Spanier.

Other recommendations contained in the special report include: making the governor a non-voting member of the board, reducing the size of the 32-member board, strengthening quorum rules for the board and subjecting PSU the state’s open records law. 

Following Wagner’s news conference, a Penn State spokesman provided us with this statement: Penn State welcomes input from Auditor General Wagner.  The University only just received the report today but will conduct a thorough review.   

About half of Wagner’s recommendations would require legislative action; the other half would require changes to Penn State’s bylaws.  


Lawmakers Hear Conflicting Views of Turnpike Finances

Members of the House and Senate transportation committees got a crash course on Pennsylvania Turnpike finances this week.  But it’s a good thing there was no pop quiz, because many of them were left with more questions than answers.  “My head is spinning. Is there a crisis or isn’t there a crisis?” asked Rep. Mike McGeehan (D-Philadelphia), minority chairman of the House Transportation Committee. 

Auditor General Jack Wagner urged the panel to repeal Act 44 of 2007.  While the tolling of Interstate 80 never came to be, the transportation funding law still calls for the Turnpike Commission to make annual payments of $450-million to PennDOT.  “The Turnpike Commission, with debt of $7-billion and growing, is clearly drowning in debt due to the burdens placed on it by Act 44.” 

Wagner says Turnpike debt has increased 181% in the five years since the law was enacted.  “This is all unacceptable because the Turnpike, quite frankly, isn’t going to survive if this continues,” Wagner testified. 

But Turnpike officials are adamant there is no financial crisis.  “We have a developed a sound, fiscally responsible approach to meeting all of our financial obligations, including the $450-million annual payments to PennDOT,” explained Turnpike Commission CEO Roger Nutt.

Wearing his hat as a member of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch explained their annual debt service is only $35-million dollars a year, compared to the $450-million dollar fund transfer to the state.  Over time, Schoch says, the revenue raised from annual toll increases will exceed the debt service, allowing the commission to pay down the debt. 

After meeting for two hours, Senate Transportation Chair John Rafferty (R-Montgomery) announced that a second hearing will need to be scheduled.  The one thing lawmakers and testifiers all seemed to agree on is that Pennsylvania must address its transportation funding crisis… with or without Act 44.


Jack Wagner: Consolidate Municipal Pension Plans


Jack Wagner

Auditor General Jack Wagner

Pennsylvania’s public pension crisis extends beyond the two big state employee plans.  The Keystone State is home to 3,200 different municipal pension plans, and Auditor General Jack Wagner says many of them are in fiscal distress. 

Wagner is authorized to audit about 2,600 of those plans, and his new special report finds that 36% of them are in financial distress.  They have an aggregate $10.2-billion in assets, but $17.4-billion in liabilities. 

Wagner’s top recommendation is to consolidate.  He tells Radio PA that consolidation based on class of municipality could result in 30 – 40 plans, instead of thousands.  “As a matter of fact, with those 3,200, we have 25% or approximately one-fourth of all local public pension plans in America.”

Consolidation could result in drastically reduced administrative costs and increased returns on investment, according to Wagner.  “You would have a lesser obligation of the taxpayer in terms of making commitments to those plans,” Wagner explains.  “This is all common sense.”

It’s also something that would require legislative action, and state lawmakers are already mired in a debate about what to do with the state employee pension plans, which have a combined $40-billion in unfunded liabilities.

RadioPA Roundtable

Radio PA Roundtable 09.21.12

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Brad Christman and Matt Paul bring you the latest twists and turns in the Voter ID case. Auditor General Jack Wagner talks about municipal pensions, and how did the Starland Vocal Band get a mention in the show?

Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting on the top news stories of the week.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast: