By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor
An overhaul of the Maine Turnpike Authority is one step closer to becoming state law.
In the wake of a report that questioned spending at the turnpike authority, a bill was introduced at the Maine statehouse that calls for significant changes. Among the benefits for truckers and other drivers is a requirement that more toll revenue be routed to state highway projects.
The turnpike authority has been under fire since a January report by the Legislature’s accountability office uncovered excessive and unexplained spending. Shortly thereafter, authority director Paul Violette resigned.
The 88-page report recommended more oversight of the agency, which oversees the 109-mile toll highway that stretches from Kittery to Augusta.
The Senate voted unanimously to approve the bill to require a restructuring of the turnpike authority. The legislation – LD1538 – pursues a number of changes, including a requirement for Senate confirmation of the authority’s director. Currently, the board of directors has sole authority to select the director.
House lawmakers must now give the bill final approval before it can advance to Gov. Paul LePage’s desk.
“The MTA abuses over recent years are now widely known,” Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, said in a recent statement. “Financial management was extremely lax, leading to stays in expensive hotels, meals costing thousands of dollars, and of course the now-infamous gift cards.”
Cebra said the bill sets a framework for greater cooperation and more efficient use of resources. He pointed out that costly equipment was sitting idle while the Department of Transportation was spending money that could be used for roads to lease the same kind of equipment.
Additional requirements call for the agency to submit spending budgets and transfer 5 percent of its operating revenue to MaineDOT. About $5.7 million in revenue each year would be applied to projects within 25 miles of turnpike interchanges.
Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York, said the bill addresses a lack of transparency at the turnpike authority that allowed problems to worsen.
“The MTA will now be accountable to the toll payers and to the state where and how money is being spent,” Hill stated.
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