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For Immediate Release

Date: 05/13/11

Turnpike Bill Unanimously Endorsed by Transportation Committee

AUGUSTA - The Transportation Committee today voted unanimous approval of a bill to overhaul the financial and administrative procedures of the Maine Turnpike Authority (MTA). The 12-0 "Ought to Pass" recommendation sets the stage for action by the full Legislature.

The bill, LD 1538, is sponsored by State Rep. Rich Cebra (R-Naples), House chair of the Transportation panel. Fifty legislators of both parties have signed on as cosponsors. The legislation implements some of the recommendations of the Government Oversight Committee in response to a January 2011 report on the MTA by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA).

"The MTA abuses over recent years are now widely known," said Rep. Cebra. "Financial management was extremely lax, leading to stays in expensive hotels, meals costing thousands of dollars, and of course the now-infamous gift cards.

"However, OPEGA also uncovered some troubling operational procedures," the representative added. "The MTA had costly equipment sitting idle while the Department of Transportation was spending money that could be used for roads to lease the same kind of equipment. The bill sets a framework for greater cooperation and more efficient use of resources."

The MTA's longtime executive director, Paul Violette, resigned in March as the agency's financial scandals came to light.

LD 1538 brings the MTA under much tighter oversight by the Transportation Committee. Rep. Cebra said its budget will be scrutinized line by line, much the way the Committee handles the budget for the Highway Fund. "We need to make sure they are not transferring money between accounts without authorization, which is how they paid for the gift cards," he said. Moreover, the MTA will also be subjected to quarterly audits of its operating budget, conducted by outside auditors who will show up unannounced.

Rep. Cebra noted that today's work session was a "great collaboration" between Committee members, Government Oversight Committee members, OPEGA officials, the York County legislative delegation and the MTA's interim executive director, former State Sen. Peter Mills. ###

Jay Finegan
Maine House Republicans
Tel: (207) 287-1445