Recently, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale announced that the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) received billions of dollars over the years from the Motor License Fund (MLF) for providing safety as part of its mission.
This announcement was framed as an exposure of underhanded, dishonest activity that DePasquale uncovered in defense of all Pennsylvanians. I find it extremely unfair to lay blame on the current Legislature when Legislatures dating back more than 50 years have also approved the distribution of funding.
In fact, DePasquale himself, as a member of the House of Representatives from 2007-13, voted four times to provide the PSP with MLF money as is happening now. It seems rather disingenuous to portray moral outrage now after having supported the same practice year after year in a less visible role.
The MLF has generated $34 billion in the period studied by the auditor general. The overwhelming majority of those funds – 88% – has been allocated to highway and bridge construction, maintenance and improvements.
Because the PSP plays a substantial role in protecting the public traveling on the Commonwealth’s highways, payments from the Motor License Fund are a legitimate use of the revenue. In fact, the Pennsylvania Constitution mandates that the MLF be used to preserve safety on public highways and bridges.
During former Gov. Ed Rendell’s first year in office, the MLF provided 67% of the PSP budget. In his last year in office, 2010-11, that figure grew to 75%.
Of course, I understand the concern about the amount of funding the PSP receives from the MLF. It’s a concern that many of my colleagues and I share with Commonwealth residents. In fact, I voted to pass Act 85 of 2016, which reduces the annual PSP payment by more than $32 million until the cap of $500 million is reached in the 2027-28 annual budget. This decision was guided by a study conducted by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee.
Dedicating the additional $32 million to maintenance of our roads and bridges will have a noticeable effect, translating into the replacement of approximately 10 bridges each year.
As is often the case, the key to this issue is balancing multiple, legitimate priorities: caring for our roads and bridges and protecting all who use them.
If the PSP lost all funding from the MLF, we would have to either fill the financial void with dollars from the General Fund or compromise on the level of PSP care we currently receive.
The attention this topic has received serves as a reminder of the difficult decisions that have to be made as we recognize the many worthy programs and services the Commonwealth can provide, as well as the limitations of available funding.
Representative Stephen E. Barrar
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Alison Evans