The embarrassing largess of the Maine Turnpike Authority is a teachable moment for those who constantly insist that government agencies — or quasi-government entities, like the Turnpike — should behave more like private business.

A new report by the state’s excellent Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability has confirmed what’s been known, or long suspected, about how the Turnpike operates: Money, at times, is no object.

Anecdotes have leaked out over the years. An infamous $1,342 dinner bill comes to mind, as does a trip to Austria for Turnpike executives, some board members and their spouses for the purported business purpose of attending an international transportation convention.

Both events sparked outrage. So should the findings of the OPEGA report. While the report gave the Turnpike Authority overall high marks as an effective agency, it also divulged details about other questionable spending: limousines, expensive hotels, excessive travel and extensive gift-giving to employees and others.

Now, the Turnpike Authority says that’s all in the past and that spending on travel and meals has dropped considerably over the last few years.

That’s good, but the toll already has been paid. The concern is not what’s been done; it’s what will be learned.

The obvious lesson is that there’s no room for such extravagance on behalf of any Maine governmental entity, whether it raises its own revenue or not. While the Turnpike’s income derives from tolls, those dollars and E-ZPass debits are bestowed to support the road.

Not a limo that drives upon it.

Also, it remains unclear what Maine has received in return for its Turnpike investments, except for higher tolls. The Turnpike spent more than $1 million on meals and travel from 2005 to 2009, according to the OPEGA report, plus another half-million on lobbying.

All one must do is travel, at speed, through New Hampshire’s new tollway on I-95, only to reach a bottleneck at the York plaza, to see that this state remains behind the times.

The Turnpike Authority has much to answer for with its spending because it’s essentially a public agency, created by the Legislature to provide a public service.

If it were a private business, the perception of its actions would be quite different.

But neither the Turnpike, nor any public entity, is a business.

It has business functions, but a crucial part of operating a business – the ability to enjoy the spoils of profit – does not apply.