"What's black and white and read all over?"

Thursday, June 08, 2006
Posted 9:57 PM by

This broken highway brought to you by...

The Pennsylvania Turnpike wants to sell sponsorships for everything it can while Gov. Ed Rendell and PennDOT are considering leasing the state's highways to outside companies.The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is considering selling corporate sponsorships along all 531 miles of toll highway, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported today.

Marketing packages wnder the commission's "Mileposts" program could plaster business names on 57 toll plazas, 157 state vehicles and more than 1,000 emergency call boxes placed along the roadway, Joe Brimmeier, the turnpike commission's chief executive officer, told the newspaper.

Do you really care if it's the Geico Insurance Safety Patrol or some other such nonsense that comes to your rescue when your car dies? All you want is the problem fixed so you can get back on the road.

I like that idea a whole lot better than a proposal being considered by Gov. Ed Rendell's administration to privatize at least some of the state's highways.

"This would be a great way to get money to put into immediate repair or construction," Rendell told the Associated Press last month.

A private investor would pay the state to assume control of a highway or rail route, then recoup the cost of the upfront payment, plus interest, by raising tolls or usage fees over the life of the agreement.

My question is why do it all?

The state is currently flush with cash - at last count sitting on a $720 million surplus - so why even consider selling off an asset than can not possibly be maintained for profit without drastic toll hikes.

Rendell said it would be at least a year before his administration reaches a decision on whether the idea is feasible. Then, any proposal would need to go through the Legislature.

Why is PennDOT and Gov. Ed Rendell even considering privatizing the state's highways without first trying to make the department more accountable and efficient?Here's hoping it dies before then. If Rendell really wants more money to fix and build roads, he should seriously consider stop filling Pennsylvania Department of Transportation with patronage employees, like so many of his predecessors, and forcing PennDOT to hold its contractors accountable when they make mistakes.

A study last year found the department paid for at least $7.6 million in mistakes made by contractors in just one district near Pittsburgh.

Keeping it secret

The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency just doesn't get it.

After its own hearing examiner recommended the student loan agency make spending records available to the public, the college loan agency said Wednesday it would continue to keep most of the documents secret.

PHEAA had argumend that the records are exempt from the state's Right-to-Know Law because most of its board members are state legislators, or because disclosure may hurt it competitively.

"PHEAA is engaged in a profitable business, the earnings from which provide significant benefits to the citizens of Pennsylvania," wrote Warren G. Morgan, a retired Dauphin County judge. "That, however, doesn't change the fact that it is a public corporation and governmental instrumentality and that its earnings are public moneys."

The college loan agency PHEAA is hiding from public accountability under the guise that its really arm of the state Legislature. WTF?However, Morgan's decision was non-binding and the agency issued a final order refusing the request for information by The Associated Press, the Patriot-News of Harrisburg and WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh.

Its decision said "undisputed facts compel the conclusion that the legislative members of PHEAA's board are acting as an arm of the General Assembly when they engage in PHEAA activities," wrote chief executive Richard Willey.

Yet another reason why the state's Sunshine and Open Records laws need to be rewritten to include the Legislature, which is the only entity in state government exempt from their requirements.

That's news to the Luzerne County commissioners Greg Skrepenak and Todd Vonderheid who cast their votes privately by phone Monday to delay their first reassessment in 40 years by one more year rather than voting at a public meeting to halt the process they started this year.

It's nice to know that although the cast may change in my old county, the show remains the same. As you might expect, the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader has already has a filed a lawsuit even if the editors there have no idea who their new owner may be.

Finally, it wasn't House Speaker John Pezel who kept his lobbyist disclosure bill secret yesterday after it was introduced in the state House, an aide who requested anonymity told me today.

Instead, the House Chief Clerk's office failed to give the bill a number and send it to the Legislative Reference Bureau for printing.

I tried to call the Chief Clerk Roger Nick's office today at 4:30 p.m., but it was already closed.

The aide said the bill should be printed and posted online sometime Friday. In the mean time, a copy of the measure was posted on the House Republican Caucus' Web site (15.47 MB PDF) this morning, buried at the bottom of a press release that also appeared on Perzel's site.

Perzel sees the light?

He may not be able to catch much of a break from me and the public these days, but Perzel, R-Philadelphia, is starting to get the idea that now may not be the time for the usual Harrisburg shennanigans.

John Perzel pulled the plug on a legislators weekend in Philly that promised them free hotels, meals and sports tickets. Probably a wise idea.Case in point, Perzel has pulled the plug on a "legislative weekend" in Philadelphia at which lawmakers have been treated for the past six years to free hotels, meals and sports tickets, organizers said.

The event had been scheduled for late July and was in its final planning stages when it was canceled.

"He said it's probably not a good time to be doing things like that," Keller told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Of course, if he really wants to prove he has the taxpayers' interests at heart, Perzel should quit his board position with the prison management firm GEO Group Inc., which kept from considering property tax reform last month, and then fire the PR firm he and other Republican leaders have hired at taxpayer expense for $5,000 a month.


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