Pa. lawmakers confront State Police funding quandary

     Pennsylvania State House in Harrisburg, Pa (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

    Pennsylvania State House in Harrisburg, Pa (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

    Every year, a hefty portion of the budget for Pennsylvania’s State Police comes from a fund that’s supposed go toward roads and bridges.

    While the commonwealth has made some moves to fix that incongruous fiscal relationship, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say they still need to find a replacement revenue source.

    State Police drew more than $800 million of their $1.2 billion budget from the motor license fund this year. That’s almost 70 percent.

    The Legislature made a preliminary move to shift that burden when it passed the 2016-17 budget by including language to gradually replace some of the motor license money with funding from other sources.

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    Under Gov. Tom Wolf’s spending plan for the next budget year, the motor license revenue would go down by about $60 million, because he wants to pump in funds from a proposed $25-per-person fee for municipalities that rely on state police coverage.

    That wouldn’t totally end police dependence on road and bridge money, but PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards said it’ would be good progress.

    Many lawmakers — particularly Republicans — don’t agree with the proposed fee, however.

    One of them is GOP Sen. Scott Martin of Lancaster County.

    “I’m not supportive of this at all and where this could potentially lead to, and it’s not the answer to any budgetary woes that are there,” he said in budget hearings.

    Martin and others raised concerns a $25 fee wouldn’t be fair to rural communities and could actually incentivize more municipalities to get rid of their police departments.

    Fellow Republican Randy Vulakovich of Allegheny County echoed his concerns. But, he noted, there are still no concrete alternatives.

    “We have to make that move from the motor license fund into the general fund,” he said. “We just scratch our heads at how we’re going to do it.”

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