Turnpike overhaul bill, budget, advance

Posted May 26, 2011, at 4:09 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A bipartisan bill that overhauls the administrative and financial procedures of the embattled Maine Turnpike Authority won overwhelming initial House approval on Thursday, as supporters said the legislation shifts the focus from the past to the future.

Representatives voted 144-0 to approve the bill, which was introduced in the wake of an audit and legislative investigation into lavish and unexplained expenses by toll road officials that led to former Executive Director Paul Violette’s resignation.

“I think we are looking forward rather than looking backwards now,” said the committee’s senior House Democrat, Rep. Edward Mazurek, of Rockland.

The bill faces further House and Senate votes but is expected to win easy enactment. It shortens the terms of turnpike board members from seven to six years, increases auditing procedures, and calls for closer legislative scrutiny of the turnpike budget.

In addition, the measure transfers 5 percent of the turnpike’s operating revenues to the state Transportation Department and requires that all purchases involve competitive bidding.

The Transportation Committee’s House chairman, Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, said the strong House vote for the bill sends a message that “it is a new day at the Maine Turnpike.”

Mazurek agreed, saying that virtually all of the recommendations by the Legislature’s auditing arm and its Government Oversight Committee have been adopted.

Meanwhile, a $114 million turnpike budget for the calendar year 2012 has won the solid endorsement of the Transportation Committee. Tolls account for $108 million of the budget’s total, and most of the rest comes from concessions and interest.

The state Transportation budget, which is separate from the turnpike budget, is still under review in committee.

 

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