Once again, Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget calls for municipalities that use the state police as their sole law enforcement agency to pony up a share of the cost.
Efforts in past years to instate a flat per-capita fee failed to gain traction and were not implemented, but in the most current proposed budget, the governor addressed some of the past criticisms with a complicated cost formula for municipalities.
The plan looks to charge every municipality in the state fee, based on a formula that factors in the cost of operating the local state police station. The cost formula factors in whether the state police provide a municipality full-, part- or occasional coverage. The median income from each municipality is also taken into account, with the wealthier boroughs and townships would bear more of the state police costs.
In Susquehanna County, based on the proposed formula Bridgewater Township carries the highest total cost in the county of about $196,065, or $71.43 per person. A total of 24 municipalities in the county would be charged at the $71.43 per person rate, of those Friendsville Borough would bear the smallest cost at about $72,426.
The townships of Forest Lake, Oakland and Thompson, as well as Thompson Borough, all rely on state police for full-time coverage, and according to the published table, would pay $42.52 per person.
Municipalities with their own part-time police departments would still pay the state, generally at a rate of $21.26 per person, for example, Montrose Borough’s share would be about $32,248. Silver Lake Township, which also has a part-time municipal police department would be charged $57,427 or $35.71 per person.
According to reports, the fee proposal, if passed, would generate a total of $168 million of the state police’s $1.4 million budget.
But local lawmakers are taking issue with the state police funding proposal, as well as the governor’s proposed increases in state spending and accompanying tax increases.
In remarks on the governor’s proposed $40.2 billion General Fund budget, Sen. Gene Yaw (R-23) said it, “includes a massive increase in state spending, a substantial personal income tax rate hike, imposition of Marcellus Shale extraction tax, and elimination of funding for broadband expansion as well as vital agricultural and health programs and services.”
Yaw said the proposed budget includes an 8.2 percent increase in state spending over the current year, as well as an increase in the state personal income tax from 3.07 percent to 4.49 percent.
Rep. Tina Pickett (R-110th) offered, “I cannot believe the governor is talking about a tax increase at a time like this. To tell middle-class families that you might actually raise their taxes is just beyond belief. That is not what people want to hear right now when they are having trouble paying the bills coming through the door. He is not proposing a small tax increase either. The numbers are massive and would be so damaging to anything positive we hope to accomplish in this state. So, absolutely not on his tax increases.”
Pickett noted that the governor’s address is just the beginning of the annual state budget process. The House Appropriations Committee will conduct a series of hearings starting Tuesday, Feb. 16, to examine the details of the governor’s plan and how state agencies are spending their funding.
Rep. Jonathan Fritz (R-111th) said, “Knowing that so many Pennsylvanians are struggling during this pandemic, we should be talking about reducing financial burdens, not additional taxes.”
“While the Governor is calling for a major spending increase in several budgetary line items, he is also planning to eliminate $5 million in state funding for broadband expansion, even though the funding is mandated by Act 132 of 2020 (Senate Bill 835), as well as millions of dollars for agricultural programs and health care services,” said Yaw.
Sen. Lisa Baker said, “To many taxpayers, this looks like the wrong budget at the wrong moment.”
She also noted the governor’s call for major spending increases in several budgetary line items, and the elimination of $5 million in state funding for broadband expansion, as well as millions of dollars for agricultural programs and health care services.
“Deficiencies in broadband access are proving to be a major stumbling block to education equality and improvement, a consideration outside whatever funding formula someone prefers,” Baker said.
In the budget proposal, Wolf also again pushed for the implementation of a natural gas severance tax. The state saw nearly a $56 million million reduction in its impact fee revenue for 2020, down from according to the latest Independent Fiscal Office report, largely due to the price of natural gas dropping to an average of $2.08 per MMbtu, which lowers the producers fee schedule.
Last year, Susquehanna County received about $6 million in Impact Fee revenue based on 2019 natural gas drilling activity, and three townships were among with state’s top receiving municipalities.