The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s plan to toll nine bridges to offset the cost of replacing and rehabilitating the state’s crumbling infrastructure does make some sense. It also highlights the commonwealth’s ongoing funding problem for two key elements: Infrastructure and the state police.
On the surface, funding for roads and bridges and money for state police would seem to be separate budget items. But over the past decade, more than $4 billion has been diverted from PennDOT to the state police.
We are not saying don’t fund the state police. We are saying there needs to be a better way that doesn’t involve stripping critical funds away from the state’s road program.
PennDOT estimates tolling the nine bridges — the closest to the Valley would be on Interstate 80 in Luzerne County and Interstate 83 in Dauphin County — would provide $2.2 billion needed to replace the bridges, which would free up money to spend on other projects. Tolls would likely fall in the $1-2 range and would not go into effect until 2023.
PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian says tolls are required due to continue funding shortfalls. Those gaps widened over the past year with fewer people on the roads during the pandemic.
The issue here isn’t totally about a lack of money. It’s about how the money is allocated According to the Tax Foundation, drivers in Pennsylvania pay 58.7 cents per gallon in state gas tax. It is the second-highest in the nation behind California.
It’s a tax many Pennsylvanians accept with the expectation the funds go to build roads and bridges.
However, a 2019 report from the state auditor general’s office showed that $4.2 billion from the Motor License Fund had been sent to fund the state police over a six-year period.
That’s $4.2 billion not for bridges and roads. Sure, it is money well spent. The Pennsylvania State Police is an invaluable asset.
A few times in recent years, Gov. Tom Wolf has pitched a per capita tax — based on the size of the municipality — to help offset the cost of the state police, a proposal that has received swift pushback from municipalities that don’t have their own police departments and use the state police. Those municipalities would pay a fee, based on the number of people in the municipality, to offset the cost of state police coverage.
It is worth another look at this idea, which is fair and reasonable and could have an impact beyond police coverage.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.