Burden on state cops too great

Pennsylvania’s approximately $3 billion deficit wouldn’t be reduced by $600 million if zero local-level municipalities relied solely on the state police for protection.

But if all municipalities provided their own protection and required state police help only in certain serious incidents, travel on state highways probably would be much safer — because of the additional police presence that would be possible.

State troopers would be doing the job that they should be doing rather than policing municipalities currently ignoring their responsibility to protect themselves.

It’s true that some of the 1,300 municipalities now without a local police force have low population and rural characteristics for which a local department wouldn’t make sense.

But most of the 1,300 municipalities in question would be better served by having local police close at hand rather than having to wait for troopers who might be many miles away or working on situations that prohibit them from responding immediately.

It was just last month that the state police made known that $600 million — half — of the $1.2 billion annual state police budget is eaten up by the services that troopers provide to local-level municipalities. That disclosure followed Gov. Tom Wolf’s revival of a proposal to tax municipalities that rely solely on state police protection.

In his 2017-18 budget address, the governor asked the General Assembly to assess a $25-per-resident fee on any municipality without local protection.

However, as in the past because the idea is controversial, it’s most likely that the fee won’t pass this year. That’s because too many state lawmakers prefer to kowtow to local-level politicians who brag about saving money and avoiding tax increases but conveniently ignore the financial responsibility they’re dumping on someone else — in this case, the state.

Those municipalities that should have local departments, but don’t, should pay a price for their decision, just like taxpayers in municipalities with local departments now pay part of the bill for state police services for places lacking locally-funded law enforcement.

Even if the $25 fee were imposed, it wouldn’t come close to “paying off” the $600 million figure that State Police Commissioner Tyree Blocker disclosed at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing last month.

It was reported that the fee would generate just $63 million — still a bargain for municipalities.

What would be collected from local-level municipalities, if a fee were imposed, wouldn’t necessarily reduce the state police budget by that amount. Presumably, the state police still would have to maintain their current manpower level.

But the police would be state police, not municipal officers for some 2.5 million people who live in the 1,300 municipalities without local police forces.

Many in those municipalities argue that their income taxes help pay for their state police protection. They say that people in cities, townships and boroughs that opt to have the added level of local police protection don’t have grounds to criticize those who don’t.

But that refusal has a negative impact on the state as a whole; even their well-being is affected when the state police are busy doing what they shouldn’t in fact be doing.

Even if Wolf’s proposal doesn’t pass this year, that $600 million annual figure suggests that the plan be revived every year until it does.