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Turnpike Commission, PennDOT merger eyed

HARRISBURG -- Gov. Ed Rendell has asked lawmakers to consider rolling the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission into PennDOT.

He raised the issue with legislative leaders during a conference call this week, lawmakers said Wednesday.

Gary Tuma, Rendell's press secretary, declined comment.

Over the past three decades, lawmakers of both parties have tried without success to abolish the turnpike commission, which has served as a base of patronage and lucrative contracts for political supporters of governors and legislative leaders. Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery County, has a bill pending this session that would eliminate the commission.

Considering whether to merge the agency with PennDOT comes as state and federal grand juries are investigating the commission.

"If there was ever a time to do away with the Turnpike Commission, it's now," said political analyst Larry Ceisler of Philadelphia.

"If Republicans are looking for efficiency and streamlining government, I'd think they'd have the will to do it," he said.

Rendell is a lame duck Democrat with nine months to serve, and is free of political burdens because he says he is not running for any office again, Ceisler said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, said he is skeptical of huge savings from a merger and questions moving "patronage from one agency to another."

The turnpike merger is one of a range of revenue proposals Rendell wants legislators to consider in a May 4 special session. He is not wedded to a single solution, Tuma said.

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