Our opinion: Fund shift may force local decisions

A Pennsylvania Senate bill would see state police get less money from a dedicated pool with a different purpose.

The Motor License Fund is a coffer set up to collect money from various automotive-related sources. It is filled by things such as the 61-cent gas tax, a chunk of the vehicle registration fees and money you pay for a driver’s license.

In 2021, it generated $2.9 billion.

You would think all of these transportation-related funds would be exclusively used for transportation-related reasons. But this is Pennsylvania, where escalating turnpike tolls are, at least in part, tied to mandatory and massive payments from the turnpike commission to PennDOT for non-toll road uses such as mass transit.

A portion of the Motor License Fund – up to 17% – goes to pay for the state police.

There has been an effort to change that in recent years.

In the 2016-17 fiscal year, money dedicated to state police from the Motor License Fund was $800 million. That drew the attention of lawmakers, who decided to try to scale that back. A 2016 law aimed to ramp down the allocation to $500 million over 10 years.

State Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Johnstown, has introduced a bill that would separate police funding from the Motor License Fund entirely by 2028-29, weaning the maximum down by $50 million annually.

“The General Fund will continue to absorb additional costs for law enforcement services. As our revenue outlook improves, I believe we can lower the transfers even further to properly invest in our highway and bridge network,” Langerholc said.

If this passes, it would mean pivoting from “how do we fund transportation infrastructure” to “how do we fund police.” That will no doubt mean revisiting how to make that funding fair regarding municipalities that rely on state police for coverage rather than hiring their own police force or participating in a regional department.


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