Auditor: Pa.’s funding scheme routed billions away from bridge repairs

"You're going to have this high gas tax but it's going to go fund roads and bridges....when they find out it's not happening, I think that gets people upset."

  • Katie Meyer

(Harrisburg) – In theory, Pennsylvania could be spending billions more dollars to update aging roads and bridges.

But instead, the money is being re-routed to help fund state police. The convoluted funding scheme has long been criticized by Harrisburg. But a new audit has given a more detailed picture of where the money is going.

Pennsylvania has almost 3,000 bridges classified as structurally deficient.

And Auditor General Eugene DePasquale noted Thursday, that number has actually been halved since 2008. But he said it’s still a lot, and he said in the last six years, $4.2 billion that could have helped fix those bridges has instead gone to state police.

The money mostly comes from the commonwealth’s fuel tax, which at 57.6 cents, is the highest in the nation.

“There’s an inherent deal,” DePasquale said. “You’re going to have this high gas tax but it’s going to go fund roads and bridges. And now when they find out it’s not happening, I think that gets people upset.”

According to PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards, Pennsylvania has 5th largest state-maintained road system in the nation, and the 3rd largest state-maintained bridge system.

The department’s overall budget is $10.2 billion, and it allocates $2.5 billion to construction projects annually. Richards said last year, $802 million went to state police.

In recent years, calls have been mounting among state lawmakers to get police funding another way.

Governor Tom Wolf has unsuccessfully pitched a few solutions, like a per-person fee for communities that rely on state police coverage.

In his latest budget proposal, he suggested a sliding-scale fee that would cost more for bigger cities that don’t have their own police forces than it would for smaller ones in the same position.

So far, proposals like those have had a difficult time getting purchase in the state legislature.

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