Thursday, October 01, 2009

E-ZAnswers, Part One

The Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA) has answered our Public Information Act request about state legislators who receive free E-ZPasses. Now it is time for the revelations to begin!

First, a bit of strangeness. On August 24, we reported that MdTA told us that 128 of the 188 state legislators carried free E-ZPasses. Today, the Sun reported that MdTA said that 137 state legislators had them in Fiscal Year 2008 (7/1/07-6/30/08). But in its letter to us, MdTA says that only 72 legislators had them as of 9/30/09. This leaves open the possibility that dozens of state legislators dropped their free E-ZPasses after we broke the story in August.

MdTA says no former state legislators retain free E-ZPasses because their accounts are shut down once they leave office. They stated that the legislators’ free passes were used 2,300 times in FY 2008. That’s a lot of driving! Was it all on state business? Interestingly, MdTA has no idea how much the free E-ZPasses cost taxpayers, instead providing a range from $920 to $11,500. And there were no controls on their use. MdTA told us, “The Authority does not scrutinize the individual charges or query legislators on the use of their account. The Authority also does not send legislators records on their utilization.”

One more thing: free E-ZPasses are distributed far and wide. Many of their holders are police officers, fire department employees, ambulance operators or highway maintenance workers. No one can dispute the propriety of these employees holding the cards. But other holders include “vehicles of officials and employees of the executive, legislative and judicial departments of the State while they are in the discharge of their official duties...” That casts a VERY wide net, and as we see from this letter, MdTA has no way to control the use of free E-ZPasses for personal purposes. Are the MACO drunks eligible for free E-ZBooze Cruises?

Following are pages 1 and 2 of MdTA’s response.

What did you just say? You want to know who has the free E-ZPasses? Sorry to do this to you, but you’ll have to come back tomorrow for that!