Editorial: Gas tax covers police for areas that won’t
Pennsylvanians pay 57.6 cents per gallon in gas tax, the highest in the country. With prices ranging from $2.94 to $3.15, that means about 18% to 20% of what we pay at the pump isn’t paying for what goes into the tank.
It goes to Harrisburg, where it’s supposed to pay for the roads we travel. Fill up a 20-gallon tank, and you’re supposed to be putting $11.52 into building, improving, maintaining or fixing roads, or keeping the bridges from crumbling into the rivers.
That’s not just what we assume happens. That is what the state constitution says that money is to support.
But state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s latest deep dive shows that the money’s being collected, but it’s not all going where it should.
DePasquale didn’t find fraud or theft. He found money diverted to other areas, including $2.45 billion that went to the Pennsylvania State Police for coverage of areas where cops aren’t provided by municipalities.
It is a good thing that people in those areas are kept safe. That’s not the issue.
The issue is that townships and boroughs are choosing not to provide protection and allowing that responsibility to fall on the state, and therefore, on all Pennsylvania taxpayers.
They say they can’t afford it, and in a lot of small or poor areas, that makes sense. But state police have estimated that just over half of our municipalities aren’t providing police. That adds up, and everyone pays the bill.
There has been resistance to Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed solution — a per capita annual fee that would cover the cost without raiding the gas tax coffers. For a small borough with less than 2,000 people, that would be $8 apiece. For Hempfield Township, with 42,300 residents, it would be $166 per person.
No one wants to pay more. But you want what you’re already paying for. Fill up once a week, and you are paying about $600 a year for safe roads and bridges while only part is going there.
Areas that choose not to have local police can’t have it both ways. They can’t claim they are doing it to spare taxpayers when we are all paying for it at the pump and with every busted rim and broken strut that could have been avoided if the roads were repaired.