SYS-CON MEDIA Authors: Dmitriy Stepanov, Gilad Parann-Nissany, Srinivasan Sundara Rajan, Sean Houghton, Glenn Rossman

News Feed Item

Auditor General Jack Wagner Says Pa. Turnpike's Dealings in Risky Swaps Has Cost Taxpayers and Motorists At Least $108 Million

Audit reveals six findings, offers 20 recommendations for improvement

HARRISBURG, Pa., Jan. 8, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Auditor General Jack Wagner said that an audit released today of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has found that the turnpike's involvement in interest-rate swaps has cost Pennsylvania taxpayers and turnpike motorists at least $108.9 million.  Wagner said the turnpike's strategy was to use the swaps to save money, but it has instead proved to further saddle the debt-ridden commission by not using conventional fixed-rate bonds to finance its debt.

Under Act 44, a Lease and Funding Agreement was entered into by the turnpike and PennDOT, which requires the turnpike to pay PennDOT $450 million a year, or nearly $24 billion, over a period of 50 years to provide funding for roads, bridges and transit. According to news reports, the turnpike raised tolls only five times from its opening in 1940 through 2004. Since Act 44 was implemented in 2007, there have been five annual toll increases, including one that took effect Jan. 6. Wagner reiterated today that the commission's long-term debt has increased by more than 200 percent, from $2.6 billion to $8.3 billion, since the General Assembly approved Act 44 of 2007.

"Given its precarious financial position relative to Act 44 payments, the turnpike should not use these complicated and risky deals," Wagner said. "The Turnpike Commission should terminate its swap deals and ban all swap use in the future for the sake of Pennsylvania taxpayers and the motoring public as soon as it is financially feasible to do so."

Interest-rate swaps are legal agreements between two parties – a debt-financing entity and an investment bank – on which way interest rates will move. The party that guesses correctly gets paid, and the party that guesses incorrectly must pay. The payments are determined by the amount of public debt financed with variable-rate loans.

A 2009 investigation completed by Wagner's office of the Bethlehem Area School District found that on a statewide basis, 107 of 500 school districts and 86 local governments had $14.9 billion in public debt tied to swaps. The numbers have since increased to $17.5 billion in public debt, encompassing 108 of 500 school districts and 101 local governments.  In the process, millions of public dollars have been lost in interest-rate swaps deals.

Wagner's audit, which covered the period Jan. 1, 2007 through Aug. 31, 2011, found that the turnpike's 23 active swaps had a negative book fair value of $29.3 million as of May 31, 2011. Furthermore, Wagner's audit revealed that the turnpike had paid $59 million in fees and interest for terminated swaps, and $49 million in fees and interest on active swaps, for a total of $108,972,133 paid out in swaps losses between Dec.16, 1998 and Aug. 31, 2011.

"Swaps may be perfectly acceptable for the private sector, where private citizens are free to decide how much risk they can tolerate when their own money is at stake, but swaps should have no role in government, where the taxpayers' money is at stake," Wagner said.

In addition to recommending that the Turnpike Commission terminate all remaining swaps as soon as it is fiscally responsible to do so and refinance, if necessary, with conventional fixed-rate bonds, Wagner also recommended that the Turnpike Commission promptly adopt a resolution unequivocally and permanently prohibiting the use of swaps in the future.

In all, Wagner's audit made a total of six findings related to the operation and maintenance of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and offered 20 recommendations to fix the noted deficiencies. The five other report findings are summarized as follows:

  • Turnpike Commission let employees ride the turnpike toll-free, even for personal travel
  • Turnpike Commission provided more than $4.1 million of toll free travel to nearly 5,000 consultants, contractors, and other state government officials
  • Turnpike Commission is overly generous and permissive when reimbursing commissioners for expenses, and lacks transparency and accountability with regard to those expenses.
  • Turnpike Commission actively monitored the E-ZPass system to ensure correct fares are charged
  • Turnpike Commission monitored, maintained, and inspected its tunnels, but it has not implemented fire detection systems in two of the five tunnels (Allegheny and Tuscarora) and critical project management practices that would ensure recommendations resulting from tunnel inspections are not overlooked.

Wagner's auditors found that the turnpike's liberal and inadequate policy of providing toll-free rides to turnpike employees and vendors, not only for business but for personal travel as well, amounted to 7,000 free rides and at least $7.7 million in lost toll revenue between January 2007 and August 2011.

Traffic volume on the turnpike has remained stagnant for the past five years. During fiscal year 2010-11, traffic volume on the Pennsylvania turnpike totaled over 189 million vehicles, including 165 million passenger vehicles (87 percent) and 24 million commercial vehicles (13 percent).  The total net revenue generated from tolls in fiscal year 2010-11 was $763 million ($436 million or 57 percent from passenger vehicles, and $328 million or 43 percent from commercial vehicles). An increasing percent of revenue (47 percent in 2011) goes toward debt service mainly due to the burdens of Act 44 – passed in 2007.

The turnpike's workforce consisted of 2,104 employees as of May 31, 2011. It is administratively headed by a chief executive officer and a chief operating officer. The Turnpike Commission manages/oversees 21 maintenance facilities, 5 tunnels, 64 toll interchanges, 17 services plazas, and controls a total of 546 roadway miles.

A complete copy of Wagner's audit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is available at www.auditorgen.state.pa.us.

Auditor General Jack Wagner is responsible for ensuring that all state money is spent legally and properly.  He is the commonwealth's elected independent fiscal watchdog, conducting financial audits, performance audits and special investigations.  The Department of the Auditor General conducts thousands of audits each year.  To learn more about the Department of the Auditor General, taxpayers are encouraged to visit the department's website at www.auditorgen.state.pa.us .

SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of the Auditor General

More Stories By PR Newswire

Copyright © 2007 PR Newswire. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PRNewswire content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of PRNewswire. PRNewswire shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

Latest Stories
"SAP had made a big transition into the cloud as we believe it has significant value for our customers, drives innovation and is easy to consume. When you look at the SAP portfolio, SAP HANA is the underlying platform and it powers all of our platforms and all of our analytics," explained Thorsten Leiduck, VP ISVs & Digital Commerce at SAP, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 15th Cloud Expo, held Nov 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
SAP is delivering break-through innovation combined with fantastic user experience powered by the market-leading in-memory technology, SAP HANA. In his General Session at 15th Cloud Expo, Thorsten Leiduck, VP ISVs & Digital Commerce, SAP, discussed how SAP and partners provide cloud and hybrid cloud solutions as well as real-time Big Data offerings that help companies of all sizes and industries run better. SAP launched an application challenge to award the most innovative SAP HANA and SAP HANA...
Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, examined three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective ...
How do APIs and IoT relate? The answer is not as simple as merely adding an API on top of a dumb device, but rather about understanding the architectural patterns for implementing an IoT fabric. There are typically two or three trends: Exposing the device to a management framework Exposing that management framework to a business centric logic Exposing that business layer and data to end users. This last trend is the IoT stack, which involves a new shift in the separation of what stuff happe...
Scott Jenson leads a project called The Physical Web within the Chrome team at Google. Project members are working to take the scalability and openness of the web and use it to talk to the exponentially exploding range of smart devices. Nearly every company today working on the IoT comes up with the same basic solution: use my server and you'll be fine. But if we really believe there will be trillions of these devices, that just can't scale. We need a system that is open a scalable and by using ...
An entirely new security model is needed for the Internet of Things, or is it? Can we save some old and tested controls for this new and different environment? In his session at @ThingsExpo, New York's at the Javits Center, Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, reviewed hands-on lessons with IoT devices and reveal a new risk balance you might not expect. Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, has more than nineteen years' experience managing global security operations and asse...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Gridstore™, the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built to optimize Microsoft workloads, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Gridstore™ is the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built for Microsoft workloads and designed to accelerate applications in virtualized environments. Gridstore’s hyper-converged infrastructure is the ...
What do a firewall and a fortress have in common? They are no longer strong enough to protect the valuables housed inside. Like the walls of an old fortress, the cracks in the firewall are allowing the bad guys to slip in - unannounced and unnoticed. By the time these thieves get in, the damage is already done and the network is already compromised. Intellectual property is easily slipped out the back door leaving no trace of forced entry. If we want to reign in on these cybercriminals, it's hig...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloudian, Inc., the leading provider of hybrid cloud storage solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Cloudian, Inc., is a Foster City, California - based software company specializing in cloud storage software. The main product is Cloudian, an Amazon S3-compliant cloud object storage platform, the bedrock of cloud computing systems, that enables c...
15th Cloud Expo, which took place Nov. 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, expanded the conference content of @ThingsExpo, Big Data Expo, and DevOps Summit to include two developer events. IBM held a Bluemix Developer Playground on November 5 and ElasticBox held a Hackathon on November 6. Both events took place on the expo floor. The Bluemix Developer Playground, for developers of all levels, highlighted the ease of use of Bluemix, its services and functionalit...
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
The 4th International DevOps Summit, co-located with16th International Cloud Expo – being held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY – announces that its Call for Papers is now open. Born out of proven success in agile development, cloud computing, and process automation, DevOps is a macro trend you cannot afford to miss. From showcase success stories from early adopters and web-scale businesses, DevOps is expanding to organizations of all sizes, including the world's large...
P2P RTC will impact the landscape of communications, shifting from traditional telephony style communications models to OTT (Over-The-Top) cloud assisted & PaaS (Platform as a Service) communication services. The P2P shift will impact many areas of our lives, from mobile communication, human interactive web services, RTC and telephony infrastructure, user federation, security and privacy implications, business costs, and scalability. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robin Raymond, Chief Architect...
"ElasticBox is an enterprise company that makes it very easy for developers and IT ops to collaborate to develop, build and deploy applications on any cloud - private, public or hybrid," stated Monish Sharma, VP of Customer Success at ElasticBox, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at DevOps Summit, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
DevOps is all about agility. However, you don't want to be on a high-speed bus to nowhere. The right DevOps approach controls velocity with a tight feedback loop that not only consists of operational data but also incorporates business context. With a business context in the decision making, the right business priorities are incorporated, which results in a higher value creation. In his session at DevOps Summit, Todd Rader, Solutions Architect at AppDynamics, discussed key monitoring techniques...