By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor
In the wake of a report that questioned spending at the Maine Turnpike Authority, more legislative oversight is in store.
Gov. Paul LePage signed into law Friday, June 10, a bill that imposes 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.
A lengthy report recommended more oversight of the agency, which oversees the 109-mile toll highway that stretches from Kittery to Augusta.
The new law requires a restructuring of the turnpike authority. LD1538 imposes a number of changes, including a requirement for Senate confirmation of the authority’s director. Until now, the seven-member board of directors has had sole authority to select the director.
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 will be applied to projects within 25 miles of turnpike interchanges.
Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, said the new law 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.
“The financial debacle discovered within the authority needed to be addressed immediately and Gov. LePage has done that,” Cebra said in a statement.
On the same day LePage signed the reform legislation into law, he swore in a new head of the turnpike board. Dan Wathen will head the board. Wathen is a former Chief Justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
“The Maine Turnpike Authority has the potential to be a great resource for the people of Maine. … These reforms and this nomination will assist it in achieving that potential,” LePage stated.
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