First, the good news. Gov. Tom Wolf announced this week that PennDOT plans to invest more than $2 billion in roadway maintenance and highway and bridge capital projects over the next 10 years through its new Road Maintenance and Preservation (Road MaP) program.

Now, the bad news. The money isn’t really new. A portion of those funds had been going to the state police, which will now have to make due without them.

It turns out that over the years, the state had been using money from the Motor License Fund to help fund state police operations since it patrols the state highways.

The fund got a jolt several years ago with the passage of Act 89, which raised an additional $1 billion per year for various highway projects across the commonwealth. But instead of being used for highway projects. much of the money was being spent on the state police. Raiding the Motor Vehicle Fund had been seen by many lawmakers as a convenient way of getting around raising taxes to pay for escalating state police costs.

But the maneuver began to be questioned by state transportation officials and those in the construction industry who claimed the money wasn’t being used for its original purpose.

According to the Highway Builder magazine, the official publication of the Associated Pennsylvania Constructors, $755 million was diverted to the state police last year and that number is expected to rise to $802 million next year. That number was clearly unacceptable, according to the magazine, if the state’s transportation needs were to be met.

After meetings between PennDOT officials, state lawmakers and construction industry officials, a compromise was reached in last year’s budget, which capped the money from the Motor License Fund for state police at $802 million. Starting in 2018-19, the funding will decrease by four percent annually over the next 10 years.

And the cutback is coming at a time when the state police are already facing some severe financial problems.

With almost half of all state police troopers being eligible for retirement within the next three years, the cost to replace them is estimated at $250 million.

The news also comes amid Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposal to charge a $25 fee for residents in municipalities without their own police force.

Wolf said the $63 million raised by the fee would be used to hire new troopers.

Meanwhile, testifying during a recent Senate budget hearing, state police Commissioner Col. Tyree Blocker said it costs $600 million a year for state troopers to provide full-time police services to nearly 1,300 municipalities, who don’t have their own police protection. He broke down the per-person cost at $234 annually. This was the first time such figures had been released and they could be used to build support for the fee.

It remains to be seen if state lawmakers will give the green light to Wolf’s proposal. Many lawmakers representing the municipalities which rely solely on state police for protection have spoken out against the fee, claiming it unfairly targets mostly rural municipalities.

However, the evidence is clearly mounting that something must be done. Facing all sorts of financial pressure, the state simply can no longer afford to provide free state police protection.

That reality has to be faced, the sooner the better.

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