A well-entrenched leader who spent decades in power of a wealthy quasi-government agency just resigned amid a public outcry over extravagant spending. No, this isn’t another North African country unshackling itself from an autocratic regime, it’s the Maine Turnpike Authority’s Executive Director, Paul Violette, stepping down after running the MTA for 23 years.
Legislators in Augusta sought Violette’s ouster in the wake of a report released in January by the state’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA). The watchdog report scrutinized MTA’s complex budget and spending practices and unearthed questionable expenses including spending $1.1 million for travel and meals for employees from 2005 to 2009 and other luxurious expenditures for MTA management. And while it is these flashy expenses that have enraged the public, a more in depth review of the report reveals that much work is needed to create an atmosphere of transparency and accountability, especially with respect to what constitutes an operating surplus–how expenses and costs are categorized by the MTA has a direct and profound impact on the quality of Maine roads that aren’t operated by the MTA. In response to the report, the MTA disagreed with OPEGA’s characterization of the operating surplus budgeting as “ambiguous.”
The operating surplus issue is one that has been neatly and powerfully addressed by Rep. Moulton’s ZOOM bill, LD 673, by requiring the MTA to provide MDOT with at least three percent of its operating revenue and any operating surplus. In addition, the bill seeks to get the MTA to stop spending money on road widening and instead, reallocate funds towards mass transit that will serve far more Mainers, from York, Wells, Biddeford, Saco, Portland, Lewiston, Auburn and Augusta. For years, the MTA has spent a mere pittance on mass transit; only $8 million out of a $666 million, 10-year operating budget. With the management shake-up at MTA, we can hope that the days of squandering are over and the time for accountability has arrived, with an immediate focus on meeting the transit needs of Maine people.