WATERBORO – Rank-and-file workers for the Maine Turnpike Authority all agree there’s no place for the mismanagement that led the turnpike authority to sue its former executive director to recoup more than $524,000 in questionable expenses.

It’s great to see the turnpike authority trying to get back any money it is owed. Yet in scrambling to put its financial house in order, management at the turnpike authority suddenly appears to be struggling to justify its long-anticipated toll increases of 25 percent starting in 2013.

This week, out of the blue, management began trying to pin the blame for the upcoming toll increases on the rank-and-file turnpike workers.

We’ll leave it to the turnpike authority management and its board of directors to identify how much of the pending toll increases is attributable to past mismanagement. We’ll also leave it up to management to disclose what share of the toll increases are attributable to current and future maintenance and construction projects.

This much we do know: Peter Mills, the turnpike authority’s current executive director, told the Legislature’s Transportation Committee two months ago that the upcoming toll increases are mostly due to the $165 million project that widened the turnpike from York to South Portland. That work was done in 2004 with borrowed money.

We also know that the top 10 management employees at the turnpike authority have been rewarded with enormous wage and benefit increases over the past decade. They have received anywhere from 58 percent to 123 percent in salary and benefit increases within a five- to 10-year span.

Despite all of the evidence, Mills is now choosing to look elsewhere in trying to assign blame for the upcoming toll increases. The $524,000 that went missing under the previous management appears to have become a distant memory to Mills. The $165 million that the turnpike authority borrowed for the 2004 widening also seems to have slipped his mind. Those high management employee salaries aren’t even on his radar screen.

Instead, Mills is blaming the rank-and-file workers of the turnpike authority for the upcoming toll increases. We’re the toll takers. We’re the plow drivers. We’re the maintenance workers. We’re the office workers who take care of drivers’ EZ Pass accounts.

Mills is disingenuous in trying to blame us. He knows that every penny we take in at a tollbooth is accounted for. What management does with the toll money after that is up to them. We work in dangerous conditions plowing and maintaining the turnpike, and providing the necessary administrative support to make sure the turnpike is the best and safest road in Maine. In return, we are paid fairly for our work.

We understand that these are difficult times, and that is why we have proposed a new contract with no raises for three years. Management turned it down and demanded concessions that Mills now claims are necessary to avoid toll increases.

Unfortunately, some of Mills’ damage has been done. Several toll takers this week reported verbal abuse by motorists over our pay and benefits after they heard Mills blaming us for the upcoming toll increases.

Instead of trying to cut hard-working Mainers’ pay and benefits, perhaps Mills should walk a day in our shoes. We invite Mills to give up Thanksgiving Day with his family to work a shift or two in a tollbooth with us. There are three shifts available — every holiday. We’re there 24/7 doing our jobs.

All we’re asking for is respect. We don’t make the big decisions. We just do our jobs. The next time you drive through a toll, please show us the respect that Mills has denied us.

— Special to the Press Herald