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April 25, 2019

Pennsylvania auditor general critical of $4.25 billion diverted to state police

State official says gas tax revenues should be reserved for road and bridge repairs

Government Audits
01022018_PA_state_Police_PSP_FB Pennsylvania State Police/via Facebook

A Pennsylvania State Police cruiser.

More than $4 billion was diverted from road and bridge repairs in Pennsylvania to fund the state police over the last seven years, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said Thursday.

The findings come from a PennDOT audit that uncovered $4.25 billion going from the state's Motor License Fund to state police since the fiscal year 2012-13.

Collected from the state's gas tax, the Motor License Fund has long been a major source of funding for the Pennsylvania State Police. In 2017, as much as 65 percent of the state police budget, approximately $1.2 billion, came from the fund, WHYY reported last year.

DePasquale said this funding method is preventing PennDOT from repairing rough highways and fixing 2,829 structurally deficient bridges across Pennsylvania.

“There’s a whopping 57.6 cents of state tax added to each gallon of gas sold in Pennsylvania,” DePasquale said. “Pennsylvanians are frustrated that our roads and bridges still need so much help at the same time we are paying the highest gas tax in the United States.”

About half of Pennsylvania's more than 2,500 municipalities rely exclusively on state police for their law enforcement needs, while others use part-time coverage from state troopers.

While lawmakers have capped the amount of money that can be transferred to state police from the Motor License Fund, the $800 million diverted in fiscal year 2017-18 accounted for about 29 percent of payments made from the fund that year.

“The nearly $800 million that came out of the fund in one year could have helped PennDOT make a significant dent in the list of urgent needs across Pennsylvania,” he added. “While State Police certainly deserve to be adequately funded, I don’t think anyone is thrilled about seeing gas tax revenues being siphoned off for purposes other than improving our roads and bridges.”

The PennDOT audit also examined how grants are awarded through the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Fund and Multimodal Transportation Fund. DePasquale said there should be greater transparency for project selection, better competition to serve the whole state and faster grant cycles to get projects underway.

The state police issues continue to be a political conundrum for the state. Gov. Tom Wolf last year proposed a $25 fee per person in municipalities that rely on state police for law enforcement. His supporters say the proposed fee is too low, while opponents believe any potential fee should be tied to a minimum population in affected municipalities.

DePasquale would like to see all of the gas tax money eventually go toward addressing Pennsylvania's infrastructure.

“More than 2,800 state-maintained bridges across Pennsylvania are structurally deficient and our bridges average over 50 years in age – beyond what they were designed to last,” DePasquale said. “That $4.25 billion could have cut that list in half and if PennDOT could use all of the gas tax money for roads and bridges we could get that number to zero in about 5 years.”