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Article published January 8, 2013
Auditor general says turnpike deal costly to taxpayers
HARRISBURG — Auditor General Jack Wagner said that an audit released Tuesday of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has found that the turnpike’s involvement in interest-rate swaps has cost Pennsylvania taxpayers and turnpike motorists at least $108.9 million. Wagner said the turnpike’s strategy was to use the swaps to save money, but it has instead proved to further saddle the debt-ridden commission by not using conventional fixed-rate bonds to finance its debt. Under Act 44, a Lease and Funding Agreement was entered into by the turnpike and PennDOT, which requires the turnpike to pay PennDOT $450 million a year, or nearly $24 billion, over 50 years to provide funding for roads, bridges and transit. According to news reports, the turnpike raised tolls only five times from its opening in 1940 through 2004. Since Act 44 was implemented in 2007, there have been five annual toll increases, including one that took effect Sunday. Wagner reiterated Tuesday that the commission’s long-term debt has increased by more than 200 percent, from $2.6 billion to $8.3 billion, since the General Assembly approved Act 44 of 2007. “Given its precarious financial position relative to Act 44 payments, the turnpike should not use these complicated and risky deals,” Wagner said. “The Turnpike Commission should terminate its swap deals and ban all swap use in the future for the sake of Pennsylvania taxpayers and the motoring public as soon as it is financially feasible to do so.”