Friday, October 5, 2012

The Cautionary Instruction: Tax, fee or surcharge -- public safety costs something

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
October 5, 2012

This week, during an address at the Pennsylvania State Police Academy, Gov. Tom Corbett applauded a new law that forces municipalities, with 3,000 or more residents, patrolled by the state police to give up their share of the traffic-fine revenue so that the money can be diverted to training of new troopers.

The new law took effect last month and ends the practice of giving the municipality where a traffic stop occurred half of the fine revenue.“It will provide millions of dollars annually for your training and it does so without a tax increase and in a way that directs services to the citizens of our state,” Corbett said.

Is this really not a tax increase? If a municipality like Unity Township in Westmoreland County receives $25,000 in traffic-fine revenue in 2012 and then receives $0 in 2013, whatever it’s called -- tax, fee or surcharge -- it hurts.

There is no question that the state police are understaffed. The total number of troopers is 471 below the number authorized. Even without a full complement the state’s 4,206 troopers provide full-time coverage for 1,295 of the state’s 2,562 municipalities and part-time coverage for another 425.

“That’s a pretty significant number,” said state police spokeswoman Maria Finn. She added that 650 troopers could retire by the end of 2013.

Why can’t the state pay for a new class of cadets? Budget woes. However, local governments are not faring much better. State monetary aid represents nearly a third of local government budgets on average. Nationwide, state aid fell 2.6 percent, in fiscal year 2010.

Not everyone thinks the loss of traffic-fine revenue is a good idea. “We have money and they (state lawmakers) want it. It’s that simple,” Thomas Kumor, chairman of the North Union Township supervisors said. “It’s not about police protection. It’s about money and their lack of it.”

Last year, North Union, located in Fayette County, received $15,000 in revenue from state police citations. “It won’t hurt the budget this year, but $100,000 over seven years buys a piece of equipment,” Kumor said, adding “It puts more pressure on us. We’re already stretched thin.”

The alternative may not be very palatable for local governments. Municipalities paying for their own police, or having to pay a special tax to the state, was bandied about during the administrations of Gov. Tom Ridge and Gov. Ed Rendell.

State Rep. Michael Sturla, D-Lancaster, introduced legislation to impose a $156 per person fee on some municipalities that are covered by state police full-time. He said residents who live in municipalities covered by state police should be paying more for that protection, as a matter of fairness.

Sturla’s bill would cost North Union Township about $2.2 million a year.

Visit Ipso Facto

No comments:

Post a Comment