‘In the same place that we were last year’: Senator calls on State Police to get creative with fee-based funding approach

By: - February 21, 2019 5:26 pm

Officials from the Pennsylvania State Police say their personnel and equipment budgets will be in jeopardy if the municipalities they police full-time don’t help them foot the bill.

They’re asking lawmakers to let them impose a new fee on boroughs and townships that don’t maintain their own police forces. But a top Republican senator says his colleagues won’t take their request seriously until they suggest some alternatives.

In a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday, top brass from the State Police asserted their need to assess a per-capita fee on municipalities that rely on the State Police coverage instead of paying for their own police departments.

The State Police provide full-time coverage to 1,296 of Pennsylvania’s 2,561 municipalities. And while they provide support services to all police across the commonwealth, they aren’t reimbursed by the towns they police full-time.

In his 2019-20 budget, Gov. Tom Wolf proposed that municipalities pay a sliding scale fee to the State Police based on their population size. His proposal would generate an estimated $103.9 million in revenue.

Wolf and his predecessors have made similar pitches before. Last year, Wolf’s $25 per-capita flat fee proposal got axed in budget negotiations.

On Thursday, Sen. Pat Stefano, R-Fayette, asked State Police officials what would happen if the same thing happened this year.

“Without that fee or something to fill that void, it puts a big dent in our budget,” acting Commissioner Robert Evanchick said.

Evanchick said his department is struggling with new constraints on the state’s Motor License Fund, which makes up the bulk of the State Police’s budget. He said incoming cadet classes could be impacted if lawmakers don’t authorize a new revenue stream soon.

The State Police are also preparing to make $70 million in equipment upgrades in the coming year, he said. Without a fee from municipalities, they’ll will have to take funds from other sources to cover that expense.

Critics of the per-capita fee argue that not all municipalities that rely on the State Police use their services equally. They want the agency to consider a service-based model instead.

The State Police provide an array of services to local law enforcement agencies across the commonwealth, such as fingerprint analysis and aviation support.

State Police already charge local agencies for lab work. But they say they don’t want to get into the business of monetizing public safety services.

“With things like aviation, we cannot charge for those [without] becoming more of a commercial entity,” Evanchick said. “It’s not a practical way to get money back.”

Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, reminded the State Police that they were asked to prepare an alternative revenue proposal when they appeared before the committee last year.

Evanchick told Browne those models are being prepared by the Office of the Budget and Wolf’s office. After the hearing, he said State Police have discussed their own alternatives internally, but he declined to say more.

Browne expressed frustration that the PSP came back before the committee with the same per-capita fee request year after year.

“If there’s an alternative that many people have talked about, it would make sense for those who understand this to offer up a different model and not come back with the same one,” Browne said.

He also said the department should prepare more proposals if they want the General Assembly to hear them out.

“Until those are on the table, I’m going to recommend to our caucus that we don’t take any of this seriously,” Browne said. “It frustrates me that there are people who bring these alternatives forward … but we are left in the same place now that we were last year.”

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Elizabeth Hardison
Elizabeth Hardison

Elizabeth Hardison covered education policy, election administration, criminal justice and legislative news for the Capital-Star from Jan. 2019-April 2021. You can find her on Twitter @ElizHardison.