Pennsylvania State House Members Support State Police Funding Increase; Off-Budget Account Questioned

Pennsylvania’s House Appropriations Committee members signaled general agreement with  Democratic Governor Josh Shapiro’s budget-increase goals for Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) on Monday, though some related issues remain contentious.

Representatives questioned PSP Commissioner Christopher Paris, Acting Deputy Commissioner of Operations George Bivens and other lead staffers at the agency in preparation for the budget process which lawmakers aim to wrap up by June 30. 

In addition to handling highway traffic and many criminal matters on behalf of the state, the PSP handles policing part-time or full-time for 67 percent of the Keystone State’s municipalities. The governor wants legislators to approve $16.4 million for four new cadet classes over the next fiscal year, which would result in the hiring of 384 new troopers.

The proposed funding increase has pleased many lawmakers, particularly Republicans who hold a minority of seats in the state House of Representatives but continue to control the state Senate. House Appropriations Minority Chairman Seth Grove (R-York) affirmed his side’s support for the new cadet-class funding. 

The appropriation would come as police organizations face a recruitment and retention crisis intensified by anti-law enforcement protests and riots in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, MN in 2020. In a House Republican Policy Committee hearing earlier this year, Pennsylvania State Troopers Association president David Kennedy revealed that 10,000 people sent in applications to the force in 1995, the year he joined; the current annual application total is 1,000. Of the 4,740-member complement of PSP, there are now 155 vacancies. 

“For far too long, I think, our police have faced a hostility,” Grove said. “The Republican Caucus believes adequately funding the State Police and local police is an imperative function of the state budget and we have fought for this year after year. We also appreciate the respect being shown by the Shapiro administration to our women and men who everyday wear the uniform at both the State Police and our local police departments.” 

Nonetheless, he said, the governor has taken a concerning step in asking lawmakers to move the PSP’s $1.4 billion yearly budget out of the General Fund and into a special account, shielding line items within the appropriation from legislative oversight. 

“I do have concerns over the newly created PSP fund,” Grove said. “By moving the State Police out of the appropriation process, the legislature will be unable to ensure continued funding of PSP. Revenues do ebb and flow from year to year, so, linking the budget to certain sales and use taxes, we may face years where the State Police need more funding than the new fund can provide or result in a strain on our future budgets which face a structural deficit like we have now.” 

The commonwealth’s present structural deficit exceeds $2 billion. Grove has warned that the spending Shapiro plans could balloon the deficit into $10 billion by Fiscal Year 2027-28, a scenario that would necessitate a large tax increase. During Monday’s hearing, the minority chair asked Paris what his agency is doing to prevent the deficit from rising. 

The commissioner answered that the department is engaging with the Department of General Services to oversee good bidding processes for equipment and vehicle procurement. He added that the PSP also is attempting to efficiently realize resale value of aviation equipment.

“Our PSP budget…, we look at it as 85 to 86 percent salary and benefits,” he explained. “We’re really spending the majority of our time trying to be efficient with and be good stewards of that remaining percentage, which we’re committed to doing.” 

Other legislators inquired about the possibility that the PSP could increase patrols in areas that have seen crime worsen. Representative Kristin Marcell (R-Richboro) reflected on her central-Bucks communities seeing more violence spill over from Philadelphia where District Attorney Larry Krasner (D) has taken a lenient posture toward crime and an adversarial stance toward city police. 

Bivens responded that state troopers are limited in being able to devote extra personnel to threatened areas but said he is optimistic that the Shapiro budget will facilitate more robust patrols in areas that need them. 

“To put more troopers there, we have to take them from somewhere else,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons we’re very excited about this budget and the prospect of hiring additional troopers and being able to allocate additional patrol troopers out to all of our stations and particularly those in areas already experiencing or expected to experience increases in crime.”

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Josh Shapiro” by Josh Shapiro. Background Photo “Pennsylvania State Capitol” by PA State Police.


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