Don’t sell the Pa. Turnpike to the Portuguese

Don’t sell the Pa. Turnpike to the Portuguese

Rieders, Clifford A

Selling the Pennsylvania Turnpike to the Portuguese is a concept that strikes some as a marvelous idea and others as absurd. After all, Anheuser-Busch, the most American of beers makers, was recently sold to foreigners for $52 billion in cash. An Abu Dabi investor just bought a stake in one of the most prominent landmarks in NewYork City. Sincewe are selling our nation to foreign interests around the world, whynotlet the Portuguese buy, manage, own or lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike?

The Portuguese have promised more than $1.5 billion per year, up to a total of $12.8 billion, to lease the turnpike. The turnpike now earns from tolls somethingmore than $600 million per year.

From where is the Portuguese company going to get the extra money? How are the Portuguese going to pay $1.7 billion a year, provide upkeep for the turnpike and not raise the tolls sky high?

Before our nation was incorporated under the current constitution, private toll roads were common. The private roads snarled business, were extremely costly and often were not properly maintained. The private roads encouraged corruption and sordid dealings with government regulators.

One of the great reforms that our founders insisted upon was a national post office system and roads controlled by the public. The gasoline tax has enabled our vast network of a national highway system, but the money raised is often used for other adventures, whether here or abroad. If the Pennsylvania Turnpike is leased to the Portuguese, why not lease Interstate 80 or any other part of the national highway system? In fact, maybe we should outsource our government to some other country. After all, the Chinese seem to be managing their government very well these days. Maybe we should sell our government to another nation. Sound absurd? There is precedent for that in history.

Anyone who reads the 74-page law to create a leasing arrangement of the Pennsylvania Turnpike will immediately appreciate that a new and frightening bureaucracy would be created. This new monster would have to be fed with money – taxpayer money. There would then be an intermediary bureaucracy between the taxpayer/driver and the state.

Unfortunately, it is not a panacea for bad government management and twisted priorities to have a quick short-term infusion of money when failing to tackle our own problems. For northcentral Pennsylvanians to demand government financing instead of tolls on Interstate 80, while suggesting that southern Pennsylvanians pay higher tolls to enrich foreign interests, appears to be an inconsistency too vast to ignore.

We need to develop a business-like system whereby gasoline taxes are used to repair roads and support mass transit rather than using that money to fill other unfunded mandates. For every expenditure in government, there needs to be an expected stream of income. Spending recklessly cannot be ameliorated by selling our national interests.

BY CLIFFORD A. RIEDERS

Guest Opinion

Clifford A. Rieders practices law in Williamsport. He is a past president of the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association and a member of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority.

Copyright Journal Publications Inc. Jul 25, 2008

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