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AG Audit: PennDOT Diverted $4.2B from Repairs

Friday, May 10, 2019

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According to Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, more than $4.25 billion has been transferred from Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s Motor License Fund (gas tax funding) to the state police since the fiscal year 2013-14.

The information was discovered during DePasquale’s recent audit of PennDOT, which indicated that the agency would be further along in repairing various impaired highways and bridges with the billions of dollars it has instead used to pay the state police.

Courtesy of Pennsylvania Department of the Auditor General

According Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, more than $4.25 billion has been transferred from Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s Motor License Fund (gas tax funding) to the state police since the fiscal year 2013-14.

Early last month, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association released an analysis of the U.S. Department of Transportation 2018 National Bridge Inventory, revealing that along with Iowa, Pennsylvania took the lead in total number of deficient bridges, with 3,770, respectively.

“That $4.25 billion could have cut that list in half and if PennDOT could use all of the gas tax money for roads and bridges we could get that number to zero in about five years,” DePasquale said.

The transfer of funds is a result of the per-capita fee, proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf, which is based on the population size on communities without local police departments, in order to generate additional funding for state police while Pennsylvania tries to decrease the amount being taken from the gas tax fund.

However, under the Pennsylvania Constitution, any proceeds from the Motor License Fund are to be used solely for the construction, reconstruction, maintenance, repair and safety on public highways and bridges.

“It is important to note that the budget now caps and decreases this transfer each year,” Wolf spokesperson J.J. Abbott said.

“Gov. Wolf has proposed a specific plan to address this funding gap for the last few years. We appreciate the Auditor General’s support in this effort, and his acknowledgment of the improvements made under this administration.”

Nevertheless, since a cap had not been previously set on the amount of money state police could receive from the gas fund prior to the audit, it was reported that they received $789.6 million during the 2017-18 fiscal year.

Additionally, last year alone, seven local police departments were disbanded, causing more state police to function as a primary law enforcement presence in many rural areas.

“Because our budget is primarily driven by personnel costs, decreases to it could result in future cadet classes being cancelled,” stated state police Lt. Col. Robert Evanchick in a budget hearing that took place this spring.

Wolf’s budget calls for three new classes of state police cadets, however.

Alex Potemkin / Getty Images

A panoramic aerial view of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Still, the progression of using the Motor License Fund to pay for state police has been a growing controversy. Jason Wagner, director of government affairs for the Associated Pennsylvania Constructors, a trade group representing road-building contractors, has stated that those seeking to draw attention to the matter welcome DePasquale’s public report.

“There’s a whopping 57.6 cents of state tax added to each gallon of gas sold in Pennsylvania,” DePasquale said, adding that by the time you’ve purchased 10 gallons of gas, the state tax adds $5.76 to the total cost.

“Pennsylvanians are frustrated that our roads and bridges still need so much help at the same time we are paying the highest gas tax in the United States.”

The high tax is the result of 2013 law, Act 89, which gave Pennsylvania the highest gas tax in the county.

“It was a monumental piece of legislation for infrastructure,” Wagner said.

Wagner’s group concluded that the amount diverted for the state police was equal to about 12 cents of gas tax. Should the sate reduce that diversion to the equivalent of 1 cent of gas tax per year, the fund would be restored in 12 years.

Wagner added that he doesn’t believe any legislative proposals are moving within the Capitol to achieve that yet, however.

In the meantime, state officials have justified its use of the gas tax funding by concluding that patrol costs qualify as public safety on highways.

Pennsylvania’s Legislative Budget and Finance Committee conducted a study in 2017 in efforts to quantify how much of state police time could be considered patrol activity. The study determined that the yearly diversion of $220 million to state police was above an appropriate figure.

Since 2014 and scheduled through 2019, PennDOT has awarded contracts to access 1,549 poor-condition bridges. Over 53% of state-owned bridges have been restored since 2008, taking the total number of poor-conditions bridges down from 6,000 to 2,800.

Funds for 27 of these projects, totaling $65.2 million, had been awarded through the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Fund, which PennDOT administers with the help of the Department of Community and Economic Development.

   

Tagged categories: Auditing; Bridges; Bridges; Department of Transportation (DOT); DOT; Funding; Government; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Roads/Highways; Taxes

Comment from Tony Rangus, (5/10/2019, 10:22 AM)

Time to raise the taxes on cigarettes & alcohol to fund animal control, as that amounts to public safety on the highways.


Comment from Vic Pallotta, (5/10/2019, 10:48 AM)

This is on top of the fact that PA Officials have been transferring $450 million per year from the PA Turnpike to Penndot to "help fund public transit agencies". This has forced the Turnpike to borrow $6 Billion in ADDITIONAL debt. Total Turnpike debt is $12B. Debt service now takes up half of the Turnpikes annual toll collection. Even with 11 consecutive years of toll increases, PA's AG says the Turnpike is on the way to insolvency. With so much money being diverted it’s amazing that any infrastructure work is completed in PA.


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