Gov. Rendell’s former employer working on Turnpike lease, I-80 tolls

| Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A law firm that employed Gov. Ed Rendell before he moved into the governor’s mansion is advising the state on Rendell’s proposal to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to private investors.

The Philadelphia firm of Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll is working as special counsel for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, an official confirmed.

“I can merely confirm that Ballard Spahr is working for the Commonwealth on matters related to the possible lease of the Pennsylvania Turnpike,” DOT Spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick told Land Line via e-mail on Friday, March 14.

Gov. Rendell’s office of general counsel did not return Land Line’s calls seeking comment on the situation.

State officials are not saying how Ballard Spahr was hired or if it involved a bidding process.

Rendell was a lawyer for the Ballard Spahr firm from the time his final term as mayor of Philadelphia ended in January 2000 to his election to governor in 2002.

Rendell’s former Chief of Staff John Estey and former Deputy Chief of Staff Adrian R. King Jr. are current partners with the Ballard Spahr firm.

King left the Rendell administration in September 2005 to return to Ballard Spahr where he was employed before serving in the administration, according to a press release at the time.

Estey, also a former Ballard Spahr attorney, left the governor’s administration in 2007 to rejoin the law firm as a partner to head government relations.

Another Ballard Spahr attorney with ties to the Rendell administration is Kenneth Jarin, who currently serves as chairman of the State System of Higher Education Board of Governors.

Rendell nominated Jarin for the chairmanship and Jarin was elected to a four-year term in July 2005.

Rendell also nominated Jarin’s wife, Robin Weissmann, to fill the interim position of state treasurer when Bob Casey was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006. Weissmann is the current state treasurer. It is her duty to oversee the state’s $105 billion budget and sign off on expenses.

When asked about the work Ballard Spahr was currently doing for the state, Jarin declined to elaborate.

“I will not comment on this,” he told Land Line.

Rendell’s plan to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to the highest bidder has been on his agenda since 2006 as a way to generate nearly $1 billion per year for transportation.

Rendell garnered “expressions of interest” from a number of high-profile private firms in December 2006, including a partnership of U.S. companies affiliated with Cintra of Spain and Macquarie of Australia.

Macquarie and Cintra partnered to lease the Indiana Toll Road from the state of Indiana in 2006 for $3.85 billion in up-front cash.

Rendell has said he believes a lease of the Pennsylvania Turnpike could bring in as much as $20 billion, but state lawmakers opted not to pursue the lease plan in 2007.

A Rendell spokesman told Land Line at the time that the governor would rather lease the turnpike than convert Interstate 80 into a toll road.

Spokesman Barry Ciccocioppo said in November 2007 that Rendell signed the controversial Act 44 – legislation aimed at putting tolls on I-80 under the control of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission – as a compromise because of the estimated $1 billion in annual revenue it would generate.

State officials are still waiting for the Federal Highway Administration to decide whether to include I-80 in one of the administration’s pilot programs for tolling existing interstates.

In addition to its role of special counsel on matters of a turnpike lease, indications are that Ballard Spahr is advising the state on matters relating to Act 44 and the possible tolling of I-80, although that has not been independently confirmed by Land Line.

A blogging Web site has published what it claims are 387 pages of invoices from Ballard Spahr and other law firms advising the state on transportation matters.

Kirkpatrick, the state DOT spokesman, said Friday he had not fully reviewed the documents posted on www.yardbird.com, but his first impression was that they were real.

“At this point, I have no reason to believe the documents are inaccurate,” he told Land Line.

Included in the posted documents are statements for hours worked by attorneys on transportation funding initiatives. King and Jarin are listed multiple times with billable hours providing special counsel.

Billing in the documents is from Ballard Spahr to Gov. Rendell’s office of general counsel.

– By David Tanner, staff writer
david_tanner@landlinemag.com

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