AUGUSTA — Maine Turnpike Authority officials are calling for a dramatic cut in travel spending for the agency in their first budget since the resignation of longtime Executive Director Paul Violette.

In its budget proposal for 2013, the turnpike authority has $44,015 allocated for food and travel, compared with $102,000 budgeted for this year and $89,650 spent under Violette in 2010.

Violette resigned in March amid questions about lavish spending and financial misconduct.

On Monday, Peter Mills, who replaced Violette on an interim basis and stands to be confirmed today as the authority’s permanent director, highlighted the travel spending as he gave the Legislature’s Transportation Committee a preview of the $133 million budget for the year that begins Jan. 1, 2013. The Legislature will have the final say on the budget early next year.

Much of the budget is earmarked for paying off loans for capital projects, such as the widening of a southern stretch of the highway.

The authority’s operating expenses are projected to go down, mainly because more people are using the E-ZPass toll collection system, Mills said. The 2013 budget would eliminate 20 toll collector jobs.

The revenue fund budget, which includes all necessary spending to keep the toll highway operating, would decrease more than 10 percent, from $43.9 million in 2012 to $39.4 million in 2013.

Lawmakers said Monday that the turnpike authority has never before shown them the budget this early in the process, and never before in such detail.

Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, who has criticized the agency for being too secretive, praised Mills for making its budget more transparent.

“He has been a breath of fresh air we desperately needed,” Thomas said.

Mills, a Republican and former state senator, won the Transportation Committee’s unanimous endorsement Monday to take the turnpike job permanently.

The nomination, made by the turnpike authority’s board of directors, is all but certain to be confirmed by the Senate today during a special legislative session.

Also Monday, the committee voted unanimously to endorse Gov. Paul LePage’s nomination of Robert Stone to serve on the turnpike authority’s board. Stone, a Republican who grew up in Lewiston, is vice president of business and government services for Androscoggin Bank.

Stone would replace Lucien Gosselin, whose term expired in August.

Gosselin, who was appointed by Gov. John Baldacci, had been chairman of the board’s finance committee since 2004. He was one of the board members who participated in international conferences, such as a trip in 2007 to Prague for the annual meeting of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association.

In April, Gosselin defended the trip to the Czech Republic, saying he learned a lot about toll roads in Europe.

Mills said the Maine Turnpike Authority is still a member of the association but won’t be sending staff members to events abroad, such as the conference this month in Berlin.

Mills said he has spent less than $200 on travel since March. He said he made one trip, to East Boston, in the spring for a regional meeting of toll authorities.

Mills said he wants the Legislature to pass a bill to allow the turnpike authority to revamp its commuter discount system.

To participate, a driver now must meet with a turnpike employee and pay for the tolls three months in advance.

Mills said he wants to merge the system with the E-ZPass system, giving every Maine resident who has a passenger car a 30 percent discount for using an E-ZPass.

Under such a system, most drivers would pay less in tolls; about a quarter of those who are now in the commuter discount program would pay more, Mills said.

Mills said that all tolls are expected to increase by about 25 percent in 2013 or 2014 to pay for the borrowing cost of the $165 million widening project from York to South Portland, which was completed in 2004.

The payment schedule was established several years ago, but some lawmakers were surprised on Monday to learn about the increase.

Also Monday, Mills said that numerous bridges on the turnpike north of Falmouth will need to be overhauled in the coming years. The bridges, built 55 years ago, need as much as $3 million worth of repairs.

Some of the bridges serve fewer than 250 vehicles a day, he said, so it might make more financial sense to close them than to repair them.

He said he has begun talks with officials in Sabattus and Litchfield about whether all of the bridges in their towns are necessary.

“We haven’t caused any ruckus yet over this,” Mills told lawmakers. “But we are giving people fair notice that we would like to have that discussion.”

MaineToday Media State House Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: [email protected]