KEYSTONE CROSSROADS – About 1,300 Pennsylvania communities don’t have their own police departments and rely instead on state police.
But they don’t pay anything for the service – and it costs state taxpayers nearly half a billion dollars every year.
State lawmakers have been talking for years about changing that, but still can’t seem to agree on a way to do it. And the pressure has been building as the state has been tapering off diversions to the Pennsylvania State Police from the commonwealth’s Motor License Fund, which is intended to fund infrastructure repair and maintenance.
Gov. Tom Wolf has pitched a plan — subject to legislative approval — where municipalities that rely on state police would pay for services based on population. Under the new proposal towns with fewer than 2,000 residents would pay $8 per person. Towns with more than 20,000 residents would pay $166 per person. It would generate over one hundred million dollars.
Republican leaders seem to favor a funding model driven by workload indicators such as calls for service.
At a budget hearing this week, Republican Senator Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, noted they called for this last year – and nothing came of it.
“These conversations that happen every year don’t happen just to happen,” Brown said. “They happen because there’s an interest in accomplishing a goal, possibly.”
Browne was speaking to top-ranking officers of the state police who told him they didn’t have anything in the way of an alternative formula to show him.
Wolf’s spokesman J. J. Abbott says the administration is open to municipal service funding mechanisms suggested by the General Assembly.
Last year, none of the proposals put forth by lawmakers included a workload-driven formula. Nothing on the subject has been introduced yet this session.
Another seven municipalities opted out of local or regional police forces in the past year, according to Acting Commissioner Lt. Col. Robert Evancick, putting the onus on state police to provide local patrols and responses.
The state police also are facing other budgetary pressures.
During the same hearing, leaders said the agency is understaffed by 300 troopers – as compared to a full complement figure based on a study that’s nearly 20 years old. That prompted State Sen. Patrick Stefano, R-Fayette, to call for a new study. At the same time, more than one thousand working troopers are eligible for retirement.
Other budgetary concerns included rising pension costs, nearly $50 million in equipment needs and a nearly $5 million per year price tag for a new forensic lab due to open in 2021.
Keystone Crossroads is a statewide reporting collaborative of WITF, WPSU and WESA, led by WHYY. This story originally appeared at https://whyy.org/programs/keystone-crossroads/.