For at least 50 years, Pennsylvania has used taxes drivers pay at the pump to fund its State Police force.
But lawmakers are hopeful that the main budget bill passed by the divided Pennsylvania General Assembly and recently signed by Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro is the first step to ending those transfers, which have diverted $8 billion from road and bridge construction in the past decade alone.
The spending plan gives the 6,600-person law enforcement agency an almost 8% budget bump up to $1.6 billion, including paying for almost 400 new troopers. But where those dollars come from has shifted.
Compared to last year, State Police will receive $125 million less from the state’s Motor License Fund, which is the bank account where the commonwealth deposits billions of dollars in annual gas tax revenue along with other vehicle fees. In turn, the agency will get $239 million more from the state’s General Fund, which is the bank account that receives most state income and sales taxes.
For decades, gas tax transfers have helped pay for State Police at the expense of infrastructure projects, said Jason Wagner, managing director of the Pennsylvania Highway Information Association.
“We totally understand that the State Police need to be funded, but our premise has been that funding the State Police out of Motor License Fund has a trade-off cost — it’s less road and bridge projects, it’s less construction projects,” Wagner said.
This year’s budget is not yet complete.
Shaprio and the legislature still need to finalize budget-enabling legislation known as code bills in order to authorize spending for a number of programs, including public funding for indigent defense.
Language that would set a deadline to stop Motor License Fund transfers to State Police could be contained in a code bill.
In an email, Jason Thompson, spokesperson for state Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Scott Martin (R., Lancaster), said that “an additional $125 million phase-down is planned each year for the next three years.”
“We would hope and expect it would take no more than five years to get to zero,” Wagner told Spotlight PA. “But we still have to wait and see what the fiscal code language is going to be to fully be confident that is what is going to happen.”