Friday, February 12, 2016

It Aint Easy Getting E-ZPass Data

A state court has denied a newspaper's attempt to get records of turnpike employees use of E-ZPass.

It Aint Easy Getting E-ZPass Data


(A brief discussion twixt Baer & Baer's editor, a.k.a. BE)

JB: Boss, ya know how new open-records attitudes and new reform-minded electeds were gonna change the way Harrisburg does business?

BE: Yeah, I vaguely remember something about that, why?

JB: Well, in one interesting case involving turnpike employees' use of E-ZPass, that doesn't seem to be happening.

BE: Wait. Turnpike? That bastion of patronage? That bin of political favors? The agency run by the father of Corbett's campaign manager at $196,700 per annum, the guy reform-promising Corbett appointed back in March?

JB: Yep, that's the one. Anywho, the Harrisburg Patriot-News reports that a three-judge Commonwealth Court panel has reversed a state Office of Open Records decision and denied the newspaper's right-to-know request for access to turnpike employees' E-ZPass records.

BE: Why'd the newspaper want the records?

JB: Because the pike's former boss last year said about 2,000 turnpike employees use E-ZPass for free, whether for business or personal reasons. The newspaper wanted to find out how much that costs.

BE: A reasonable request.

JB: You'd think, especially in this era of open government.

BE: But?

JB: In an opinion written by relatively new Judge Patricia McCullough, the court ruled the workers are protected under part of the state transportation law that ensures privacy of electronic toll users.

BE: Yeah, but....

JB: Right, the newspaper argued, hey, these folks are getting employee benefits that should be open to public view.

BE: A sound argument.

JB: And the newspaper's editor, David Newhouse, said, "If the [turnpike] commission has nothing to hide, if they're willing to be held accountable, why not open up the records?"

BE: Makes sense.

JB: Sure it does. But no word yet on an appeal, or whether the always-reform-minded legislature will change the law, or whether the "I'm-gonna-change-Harrisburg" governor might step in.

BE: I think it's nice how you always seem to have hope for change.

JB: I think it's sad there's always some need to hope for change. Grrrr.



Daily News Political Columnist
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About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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