JUST ONE EXAMPLE of the mess and confusion permeating the state budget is a fight over funding for the State Police.
Gov. Rendell suggests that reckless Republicans mean mayhem, carnage and blood in the streets. Republicans, basically, say, "Huh?"
As a result, and as the Guv and GOP lock horns over taxes for a budget due tomorrow (as if), state troopers and the public are on a political seesaw, pushed up and down by conflicting information.
The administration says that the GOP would toss 800 troopers off the 4,400-member force, giving evildoers, drunken drivers and child-molesters free reign over Pennsylvania.
"The Senate's plan is reckless if not criminal," Rendell said in a recent statement. And at a news conference Friday, he said: "The only way to meet that [GOP budget] is with 800 layoffs."
Republicans say that Ed's dead wrong and using scare tactics to sell his plan to hike the personal-income tax (which Republicans oppose) to raise another $1.5 billion for the state.
"It's shameful," Republican Senate President Joe Scarnati said on statewide TV last week. "When you're selling snake oil, you really need to up the hype."
Rendell says that Republicans put 1,720 communities (83 in the four counties surrounding Philly) with part- or full-time State Police coverage at risk.
Senate GOP Leader Dominic Pileggi says that Rendell's read on this is "based on either a misunderstanding or a deliberate evasion" of facts.
But the facts aren't easy to find.
The originally proposed State Police budget was $877 million. Ed says GOP cuts total $84 million. Republicans say that it's far less, only 1.3 percent less than the Guv's current plan, and actually increases current State Police spending. Senate spokesman Eric Arneson says that he doesn't see how more money leads to layoffs: "I admit to being very confused."
So does Bruce Edwards, president of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association: "Lay off 800? That's a fifth of our force! We're worried about money to hire more cadets, but there's not going to be layoffs. It's scare tactics to get troopers and the public incited. You shouldn't play politics with public safety. . . . That's not responsible."
(Rendell denies using scare tactics. He says that he's "educating" people.)
The difference hinges on interpretation of how State Police are funded.
The agency gets 73 percent of its money from the Motor License Fund, the rest from the General Fund and the feds. The administration says that Motor License Fund dough is doled out in proportion to highway patrols, and fewer patrols (necessitated by General Fund cuts) mean less dough. Because Republicans cut General Fund money, it's assumed that they automatically cut Motor License Fund money.
But Arneson says that there's "no basis in law" for this interpretation, and it appears that he's right.
When I press the issue, the Guv's budget office ducks, the State Police refer me to the governor's office - and Rendell's deputy communications director, Michael Smith, after checking, concedes that "nothing in statute or administrative code" requires a proportion of one fund to the other.
So without a link to Motor License Fund money, the GOP cuts are nowhere near as drastic as portrayed.
And if there was any real chance of massive layoffs, wouldn't some preparation be under way? State Police spokesman Jack Lewis, in an e-mail Friday: "At this time, I am not aware of any plans to lay off troopers."
There's a technology issue, too. Rendell says that GOP cuts in technology services keep cops from checking gun sales, locating sex offenders, tracking protection from abuse orders and more. He claims: "This lack of information will put troopers' and victims' lives in danger."
It is true that Republicans cut technology money from some sources. It is true that the State Police needs money to upgrade computer systems by September 2010 to comply with FBI requirements to access data through the National Crime Information Center.
But administration officials speaking on background say that police will maintain computer services critical to public safety with other department funds and prioritized spending.
State Police funding is only one piece of a large budget puzzle. But if other pieces are as twisted and convoluted as this one, how do we put together a picture of the truth?
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