Funding for our roads and state police

The American Society of Civil Engineers reports that, because of the number of roads in disrepair, driving in Pennsylvania costs each Pennsylvania motorist $424 per year in car repairs, a total of $3.7 billion. Pennsylvania rates a C- on their Report Card for America’s Infrastructure; that’s in spite of a recently enacted gas tax that places Pennsylvania 11th highest in gas prices. So where is all the money going? While Pennsylvania desperately needs funding to address its ailing infrastructure, this year alone $814 million was taken from the Motor License Fund, the fund intended to build and repair roads and bridges, to instead provide free State Police coverage for municipalities that opt not to pay for local or regional police coverage. Prohibiting that practice would result in an additional $4 million in road repairs each year to each of the 203 Legislative Districts. Collateralized into a roads and bridges bond issue: that’s about $13.5 BILLION in infrastructure improvements that currently are not getting done. This money could be used for road improvements, bridge repairs and other necessary transportation projects in each and every district in the state (an additional $32 million each year for Lancaster County alone).

House Bill 709 would establish a nominal fee to help recoup some of these costs of providing free Pennsylvania State Police services while providing needed funding for transportation costs. Even if House Bill 709 -- which only restores $450 million to the Motor License Fund were enacted, it would mean an additional $2.25 million per district for road repairs every year. That’s a lot of potholes!

Using some Motor License Fund (MLF) revenues for enforcing traffic laws may be a legitimate use but that is only a fraction of the free services that municipalities without their own police department receive for free. The Pennsylvania State Police break up bar fights, handle shoplifting calls at Wal-Mart, check out reports of prowlers and noise complaints, address domestic violence calls, investigate burglary and homicide incidents, and the list goes on. None of which is within the scope of what the MLF is designated to do. Taking from the MLF for services other than routine road patrols violates the Pennsylvania constitution. Article VIII, Section 11 of Pennsylvania’s constitution states that “Gasoline taxes and motor license fees are restricted to use for specific transportation projects related to public highways and bridges”.

Each year, more and more municipalities opt to receive free state police services and disband their local police forces, increasing the demand for Pennsylvania State Police services and increasing the burden on taxpayers that pay for their own police protection through local taxes. Taxpayers who already pay for their own police force through local taxes should not be shouldering this cost burden and the strain on our already dwindling state police force.

Some of the greatest increases for demand of the state police is in Marcellus Shale regions, most of which do not currently have local police departments. While these areas are directly enriched by shale impact fees, they are not paying for public safety even though emergency preparedness and public safety, including law enforcement and fire services, are allowable uses for impact fee revenue under Act 13 of 2012. About 80 percent of the state’s population, most of which live outside the Marcellus Shale region, are paying their share of local police coverage and free state police coverage for others.

I think it’s time we enact a policy that limits the practice of raiding the Motor License Fund in order to provide free state police coverage to 20 percent of the population. I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and the governor to ensure that the State Police receive the funding they need to protect and serve and that our state’s transportation needs are met. House Bill 709 would do just that, while still providing funding for the state police and transportation projects across the entire state.