Inquirer Editorial: Someone should answer for DRPA's spending

The Philadelphia Orchestra was among the groups receiving DRPA economic development money.
The Philadelphia Orchestra was among the groups receiving DRPA economic development money. (FILE)
Posted: April 11, 2013

For 15 years ending in 2011, the Delaware River Port Authority squandered nearly half a billion dollars on projects wholly unrelated to the bridges and rail line it was created to run. It did so even as it struggled to balance its budget and deferred necessary spending on its PATCO line and four Philadelphia-New Jersey bridges. It effectively borrowed every dollar it misspent, contributing significantly to its massive debt, as well as a 25 percent toll hike as the free-for-all wound down.

Those still funding the follies with every five bucks they fork over to cross the Ben Franklin should welcome The Inquirer's report that a federal grand jury is investigating this disastrous experiment in so-called economic development. The probe could bring about some overdue consequences for the agency's misadventures.

There has been precious little of that so far. In fact, the bistate agency's CEO is still the same former New Jersey legislator who oversaw much of the spending spree.

The enterprise seemed limited only by the imagination of the agency's executives and their political connections, funding facilities ranging from the Camden County Boathouse to Independence Mall's President's House, and organizations ranging from the Philadelphia Orchestra to the Pro Cycling Tour. According to a damning report issued by New Jersey Comptroller Matthew Boxer's office last year, the money was spent casually and in contravention of the DRPA's own rules.

The whole economic development enterprise was at odds with a provision in the agency's governing document that such spending could take place only "after appropriate allocation for maintenance of bridge and other capital facilities," Boxer's office noted. By the DRPA's own admission, bridge and rail projects went begging even as the agency threw money at stadiums and museums.

Moreover, none of the allocations examined by the Comptroller's Office were properly documented under the agency's rules. And the office found that oversight only deteriorated over the years. By the time economic development spending finally ceased, the agency was essentially outsourcing funding decisions to the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., a creation of the city and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. Federal investigators are reportedly paying special attention to that spending.

Unfortunately for the region's commuters, the money is gone. Perhaps some of the people who spent it will soon follow.

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