The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

January 23, 2013

State turnpike officials still getting free cars

HARRISBURG — The four appointed members of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, whose main responsibility is to attend two meetings a month, receive salaries of at least $26,000, a no-limit expense account and a free pass on tolls.

Oh, and free cars.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported today that tollpayers bought commission Chairman William Lieberman a 2013 Jeep Cherokee for nearly $40,000 on Dec. 28. That's just days before the latest toll increase took effect.

Lieberman, a Pittsburgh insurance executive, handed down the 2012 model he got a year earlier to fellow Commissioner Pasquale "Pat" Deon. The other two commissioners, Michael Pratt and William Lincoln, drive 2011 Ford Explorers that cost $33,945 apiece.

State Transportation Department Secretary Barry Schoch serves as the fifth commission member. He does not receive a salary from the commission and, according to PennDOT, drives his own Chrysler 300, the newspaper said.

Between Jan. 1, 2007, and Aug. 31, 2011, the turnpike spent $406,497 buying new cars for commissioners, $29,642 on fuel and $20,328 on maintenance. That excludes the cost of the new Jeep for Lieberman, whose salary as chairman is $28,500.

In contrast, the commissioners of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority get no free cars, no salaries, no free passes for tolls and no reimbursement for using their own vehicles, according to NJTA spokesman Thomas Feeney.

The Pennsylvania commission's acting chief executive officer, Craig Shuey, called the vehicles "appropriate and necessary for the job."

"We ask a lot of our commissioners, who receive a salary of $26,000 to $28,500 — which has not been increased since 1988 — and a company car is fairly common in the public and private sectors," Shuey said in a statement. "The fact is, these assigned vehicles are essential tools that allow our commissioners to effectively perform their jobs."

Just before he stepped down earlier this month, former Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner criticized the free cars, which come with free gas and maintenance, calling them an "overly generous" perk.

"We do not believe that part-time commissioners require permanently assigned vehicles," the auditors wrote. "Further, we found no convincing reason to allow commissioners to use commission-purchased vehicles for personal use."

The auditors said the commissioners could use their own cars with the commission providing mileage reimbursements.

 

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