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For Immediate Release

Date: 02/10/12

Huge savings spring from Maine Turnpike investigation

House Republican Office

February 10, 2012

For more information:

Jay Finegan, 287-1445

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Huge savings spring from Maine Turnpike investigation

AUGUSTA - Last year's investigation of waste and abuse at the Maine Turnpike Authority (MTA) has ultimately created a better-managed agency that can operate at a greatly reduced cost, according to State Rep. David Burns.

Rep. Burns (R-Whiting), the House chair of the Government Oversight Committee, says the proposed MTA budget for fiscal year 2013 is more than 10 percent lower than this year's budget, dropping from $41.8 million to $37.5 million.

"What we're demonstrating here is that good government translates into saving money," Rep. Burns said. "Every agency needs oversight, and if oversight is missing things go downhill quickly."

The proposed savings in the MTA budget include a $2.2 million decrease in employee salaries, curbing what many critics regarded as a bloated compensation structure that had grown enormously over the years. Also included in the savings is the elimination of all outside lobbying services for the MTA - a total of $300,000.

In addition to savings in the budget for the upcoming year, the MTA under new Executive Director Peter Mills is in the process of refinancing its bond debt for a projected savings of $13 million over the life of the bonds.

"There's a renaissance at the MTA, and it all began with an investigation of waste that was conducted last year by OPEGA," said Rep. Burns. OPEGA - the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability - is a small "watchdog" agency that operates under direction of the Government Oversight Committee.

State Rep. Joyce Fitzpatrick (R-Houlton), who also serves on the Oversight panel, said, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Here was an agency that was given free reign for decades, taking advantage of the public trust to squander huge sums of money. By shining the light inside, OPEGA was able to discover all manner of criminal behavior. It just demonstrates the old adage, 'Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.' "

Last year, OPEGA unearthed extensive waste, fraud and abuse at the MTA. Financial management was extremely lax, leading to stays in expensive hotels, meals costing thousands of dollars and a proliferation of gift cards and contributions to organizations that had little or nothing to do with transportation.

The MTA's longtime executive director, former Democratic state senator Paul Violette, resigned last March as the agency's financial scandals came to light. He pleaded guilty to felony theft on February 9 and faces up to five years in prison. Former Republican legislator Peter Mills took charge of the agency as interim director before being confirmed to run it on a permanent basis.

The OPEGA findings were later incorporated into a successful bill, LD 1538, to overhaul the MTA's financial and administrative procedures. The legislation brought the MTA under much tighter oversight by the Transportation Committee. Its entire budget will be scrutinized line by line, much the way the Committee handles the budget for the Highway Fund. Moreover, the MTA will be subjected to quarterly audits of its operating budget, conducted by outside auditors who will show up unannounced. ###

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