HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) — It is another busy week of budget hearings, as commonwealth agencies and departments make their case for funding in the 2023-24 fiscal budget.
Monday, leaders with the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) discussed their funding needs in front of the House and Senate appropriations committees. PSP officials discussed how the role troopers play in keeping roads and many communities safe, continues to grow. However, the number of new troopers and applicants is not keeping pace.
“Our internal analysis shows that we’re in the ballpark, at the current time, of needing about 400 additional troopers,” said Major George Bivens.
To aid the statewide police shortage, Governor Josh Shapiro’s proposed budget includes up to a $2,500 tax credit per year, up to three years, for municipal and state police. Shapiro also proposed funding for four new PSP cadet classes- about 400 new cadets.
Also in his budget, Shapiro proposes the Public Safety and Protection (PSP) Fund, which he says would offer a steady funding source for state police, while gradually reducing their reliance on the Motor License Fund (MLF). The MLF has been a large PSP funding source for decades and is mainly funded by the gas and diesel tax. It was originally designed to fund road and bridge repairs.
Shapiro proposes reducing state police reliance from the MLF by $100 million per year for five years. During the period of transition, PSP funding would be dedicated from other revenue sources to ensure full funding of their operations.
However, in today’s hearing, some lawmakers expressed concern with transparency regarding the new PSP fund.
“This eliminates the transparency of all your general fund line items, by giving the agency a single blank check appropriations from an offline special fund,” said Rep. Seth Grove (R-York), Republican Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
“There are some concerns about taking parts of the budget offline versus having them online,” said Rep. Clint Owlett (R-Tioga/Bradford). “Transparency is key in that process. These are people’s funds that they’re sending to us down here to appropriate well and responsibly,” he added.
PSP officials also addressed rising challenges for troopers like gun violence, mental health crises and intervention, illicit substances and the presence of Xylazine, the non-opioid veterinary tranquilizer not approved for human use, also known as “tranq.”
Officials want to ensure the next generation of troopers are prepared with modern training to meet modern demands. PSP hopes to meet those demands with a new state-of-the-art training facility.
“We really see it as a game changer from the standpoint that the entire physical plant, from the ground up, is designed to integrate the classroom with the hands-on practical portion. We see that as a game changer for reinforcing the way that we teach use of force, for teaching de-escalation and for dealing with mental health issues and meeting people where they are,” said PSP Commissioner Col. Chris Paris.