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HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania’s elected fiscal watchdog is urging state lawmakers to rescue a Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission that’s deep in debt from payments it’s forced to make to the state, despite annual toll increases.

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Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said Thursday the annual toll increases are driving motorists away, but aren’t reducing the commission’s rising debt.

“When it comes to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, this is probably as bad of news as I could possibly give today,” said DePasquale. “The Pennsylvania Turnpike now is at perhaps its most critical juncture ever.”

Meanwhile, the commission’s $11 billion of debt is limiting improvements to its 552 miles of highway.

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A federal lawsuit is seeking to end the turnpike commission’s annual payments. The tab is $450 million a year under a 2007 state law designed to pump more money into Pennsylvania’s highways and public transit systems.

“It is now time for the state to step in and revise ACt 44 that both enables the Turnpike to be sustainable moving forward,” said DePasquale. “And find another source of revenue that is sustainable for funding public transportation.”

Meanwhile, state budget makers have been diverting constitutionally restricted highway dollars to cover fast-rising state police costs.

Senate Transportation Committee Chair Kim Ward says she’ll assemble working groups to tackle the issues.

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