January 28, 2011

Report details turnpike's entertainment expenses

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — The Maine Turnpike Authority paid for private limousine services, in-room movies and alcoholic beverages as part of its travel and meal budget, a report released today shows.

The state's watchdog office studied many parts of the authority, including why it is not contributing money to the state, whether its debt level is appropriate, and how it chooses its contractors. Under an examination of where the turnpike is spending money, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability is recommending that rules be tightened for expenses.

The report found the turnpike's management team used turnpike credit cards for:

— private limousine services

— hotel rooms that would be viewed as exceeding what is necessary to be "consistent with reasonable living standards"

— meals and entertainment during business meetings with fellow employees that were not documented as meeting one of the exceptions where reimbursement would be allowed

— in-room movies

— airline club dues

— alcoholic beverages

The Legislature's Government Oversight Committee is meeting today to review the report. A public hearing will also be scheduled for a later date.

In a response to the report, the turnpike authority wrote that the number and dollar amounts attached to the questioned expenses "are a very small percentage of the whole and continue to decline year after year."

The authority wrote that even if the expenditures examined in 2009 were eliminated"it would represent approximately two-tenths of one percent of the MTA's operational expenditures and would not affect in any way the MTA's existing toll rates or borrowing needs."

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