Lawmakers Grill Pennsylvania State Police Over Municipality Service Fee

Lawmakers Grill Pennsylvania State Police Over Municipality Service Fee

By Christen Smith | The Center Square

House lawmakers grilled the Pennsylvania State Police on Thursday over the governor’s proposal to raise $136 million for the agency via municipality service fees that some see as akin to a tax increase.

“We were told this is a no tax increase budget, but in order to afford this, municipalities will have to probably raise property taxes,” said Rep. Ryan Warner, R-Fayette, during a House Appropriations Committee meeting.

PSP service fees
Top officials from the Pennsylvania State Police testify before the House Appropriations Committee on Feb. 20, 2020. Image courtesy of the Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus

“I think it’s up to the municipalities whether they want to raise taxes or find another way to fund it,” PSP Col. Robert Evanchick said.

Gov Wolf’s Proposal

Earlier this month, Gov. Tom Wolf proposed that the Legislature adopt a weighted formula that would charge municipalities for the state police services they use, rather than borrowing from the Motor License Fund to cover the bill each year. About two-thirds of Pennsylvania’s 2,560 municipalities rely on state police coverage instead of a local department.

Critics argue the service fee disproportionately shifts the burden onto taxpayers in poorer rural districts who would pay more per person than those in wealthier, more populated areas.

Prior proposals from Wolf’s administration used sliding scales and flat fees to generate additional funds, but never gained traction within the Legislature. The latest version is “predicated on station coverage costs based on incidents and coverage area and considers other factors like population and income,” according to the administration’s budget summary.

In Tioga County’s Delmar Township, for example, PSP would collect $32.92 per resident to fund the $92,000 it spends annually to maintain full-time coverage. Philadelphia residents, by comparison, would pay just 97 cents per person to cover the $1.5 million in PSP expenditures incurred there each year.

“Is this the best way?” Rep. Jim Struzzi, R-Indiana, asked. “We all want to make sure you have the funding you need, but is this the best way to fill that $136 million gap?”

“To add one more fee or tax or whatever you want to call it is a big ask for me,” said Rep. Clint Owlett, R-Tioga.

Evanchick’s Defense of Fees

Evanchick defended the formula as a fair representation of expenditures at each of its stations and said the department tried to limit the impact on the municipalities with more needs.

“We are concerned about the rural communities because that’s where we should be doing our greater work,” he said. “We understand that these communities don’t have resources out there.”

Rep. John Lawrence, R-Chester, pressed PSP on the amount of free police coverage it provides at public events. In 2019, Evanchick said the agency staffed more than 111,000 events for free– including protests and little league baseball games. PSP also received $1.5 million in reimbursements for covering professional and college sporting events, he said, such as Eagles games at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

“We looted the Motor License Fund to pay the state police while the Eagles, Penn State and the Farm Show are getting a free ride on behalf of the Pennsylvania taxpayers?” Lawrence said. “We should really be taking a look at that.” 

Evanchick again clarified that Lawrence’s statements weren’t “entirely true,” noting that the department had been paid for covering certain events.

Replacing Retiring Troopers

Wolf’s budget also proposes a $13 million appropriation to fund four cadet classes to replace the 200 troopers expected to retire next year. Evanchick said PSP staffing levels are at a 10-year high, reaching 4,719 in 2019. 

Rep. Chris Sainato, D-Lawrence, said despite the record amount of troopers currently employed, the numbers alone highlight the limitations of the agency. 

“I think there’s room for both local and state police in Pennsylvania,” he said. “With your complement, you can’t do everything. It’s impossible, with your numbers, to solve everything out there.”

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