The state Missouri Department of Transportation misused more than $7-million out of tax money meant for Missouri’s roads in the two years that ended June 30, 2014, according to the state auditor’s office.

Deputy Missouri Auditor Harry Otto

Deputy Missouri Auditor Harry Otto

Deputy State Auditor Harry Otto said $1.5-million of that went to salaries and benefits for 122 employees put on paid administrative leave for 60 days before their jobs were eliminated under the Department’s “Bolder Five Year Direction” plan implemented in 2011.

“Those 122, as a group, for some 60 days … didn’t do anything for MODOT, didn’t do anything for the state, but were compensated as if they had,” said Otto. “During that period they also continued to earn sick leave, vacation leave, insurance, retirement, etcetera. We said that was not a good use of road tax money. The roads weren’t being improved those 60 days by those administrative leave people.”

Otto said $7-million dollars could pay for a significant amount of road work.

“A one-cent gas tax generates about $35-million a year. This $7-million is one-fifth of that, so if you extrapolate … two-tenths of one cent of the road tax you paid last year could have been avoided, and we pay 17-cents,” said Otto.

The Department said those leaves were warranted under an extraordinary circumstance created by the Bolder plan. It said those benefitted the employees that were being laid off by allowing them to move on with their lives with less negative impact. The Department said those leaves also benefitted the agency’s remaining employees by improving their safety, security, and well-being, and benefitted the citizens of Missouri by allowing the Department to begin hiring maintenance workers.

The auditor’s office also cited the Department covering a $30-thousand dollar loss on the sale of residential property for an employee who was moved from the Macon district office as it was being closed, though the auditor’s office says the property had nothing to do with his relocation; concerns about the disclosure of a $625-thousand dollar settlement with a former employee, and several other issues.

Click here to read the full audit report and the Department’s responses.