The Maine Heritage Policy Center exists solely because of the generosity of our 1,500 individual donors. We accept no government money, and it works out great; we don’t want it, and they don’t offer it.
That is not quite true for other public policy think tanks in Maine.
According to a report just released by OPEGA (Office of Program Evaluation & Government Accountability) Maine Turnpike Authority (MTA) gave 10,000 public dollars to the far-left Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP) between 2005 – 2009.
Not surprisingly, MECEP has been zealous in its advocacy of borrowing more money to fund infrastructure projects, and is outspoken in its support of higher taxes. Also, during the time the Turnpike Authority was funneling them your toll dollars, MECEP was fighting against TABOR, the spending limit legislation written by MHPC.
According to OPEGA, MTA gave out a grand total of $454,238 in “sponsorships” and “donations” to many groups that have nothing to do with the mission of the MTA. Some other groups on the receiving end of this toll-payer funded spending spree:
- $3,255 to GrowSmart Maine, a lobbying group who’s biggest accomplishment is helping to secure $67 million in bonds for Lands for Maine’s Future and “community development.”
- $27,000 to the Maine Preservation Foundation that, among other things, seeks to “provide grants to educators to introduce preservation in the schools.” (It just so happens that the Executive Director of MTA, Paul Violette, is an Advisory Trustee to the Maine Preservation Foundation)
- $6,100 to Women Unlimited
- $2,500 for Maine Recycle Week/Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments
- $6,650 to the Maine International Trade Center
- $6,000 to Lewiston/Auburn Economic Growth Council
- $3,375 to Friends of Scarborough Marsh
And the list goes on and on. YMCAs, Chambers of Commerce, Firefighters and more were handed your toll dollars.
Maybe the most egregious activity that MTA took part in was handing out more than $157,000 worth of gift cards to various organizations. What’s worse, the OPEGA report says:
“[T]here have been no records kept of the specific donations made or received by any particular organization.”
Wait, whaaatttt?? No record?
So, the MTA collected $157,000 of your toll money, used it to buy gift cards, and handed them out to its favored organizations. MTA also, intentionally it would seem, neglected to keep track of these donations in any way. But don’t worry, MTA executive director Paul Violette reports that he distributed these himself, and no other MTA employees were involved. By the way, Paul made $166,986 in 2009.
OPEGA’s report also details spending that went on during this time period. MTA credit cards purchased all kinds of fun things including: limousine services, stays at “expensive hotels,” in-room movies, airline club dues and alcoholic beverages. MTA has a great excuse though, as stated to the KJ yesterday:
[S]ome of the more expensive travel and meal items were from a three-year period when Executive Director Paul Violette held leadership roles in the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association.
“That required a lot of national and international travel to conferences where they stay in nicer hotels,”
This isn’t the first time MTA has come under fire for its wasteful handling of your toll dollars. We highlighted in the Piglet Book that it had dropped $102,000 on 3 pictures of dogs that are now hung in a highway rest stop in Kennebunk. MTA, under Violette’s leadership, also erected a brand new, 55,000 square foot, administrative building that cost Maine toll payers $11.9 million and houses just 116 employees (about $103,000 per employee).
Just this summer, we released on MaineOpenGov.org the salaries and benefits MTA employees received. Maine citizens and toll payers found out that some toll collectors earn as much as $76,000 and the number of MTA employees earning more than $80,000 jumped from 43 in 2006 to 74 in 2009.
For MTA to use your toll dollars to help fund MECEP, Maine Preservation Foundation and other leaders of the professional left is shocking; and seeing these bureaucrats underhandedly wasting your hard earned money is just sad. For these “non-profit” groups to accept backroom handouts that came from your pocket is shameful, and it can’t continue.
If the Maine Turnpike Authority can’t commit to using toll dollars for the purpose they are intended – to maintain the Turnpike – then it should be relieved of its duties immediately.