About a dozen state lawmakers gathered at a state Capitol press conference on Wednesday morning to announce the introduction of a bill to abolish the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.
House Bill 1197, sponsored by state Representative Donna Oberlander from Clarion County, would “cede all operations, maintenance, construction and other responsibilities” to PennDOT. The state would be required to assume the debt for the outstanding bonds of the Turnpike Commission.
The drive to push the legislation was prompted by the 44-month grand jury investigation that turned up a multi-million dollar “pay-to-play” corruption scandal. Eight individuals, including a former state Senator and a former Turnpike Commission CEO, have been charged in a series of accusations that they allegedly forced Turnpike project bidders to make campaign contributions. Attorney General Kathleen Kane has also charged that Turnpike officials were instructed to direct winning bids to those contributors.
While announcing that her bill was referred to the House Transportation Committee, Oberlander said the legislation should eliminate the Turnpike Commission’s “corruption-infested potholes.” Bill supporter Mike Vereb, a state Representative from Montgomery County, labeled the commission’s operations “organized crime.”
Oberlander also stressed that “inefficiencies and excess” must be eliminated before the issue of transportation funding can be correctly addressed, and she said there is “no reason why Pennsylvania taxpayers should be forced to foot the bill to have two government organizations dealing with transportation issues.”