In Erie County, Shapiro pitches tax credit to recruit police cadets, teachers, nurses
NORTH EAST ― Gov. Josh Shapiro, making his first stop in Erie County since taking office, continued on Thursday to make a pitch for incentives in his first budget proposal that aim to bolster the ranks of police officers, teachers and nurses.
After meeting with cadets at the Mercyhurst Municipal Police Academy, Shapiro said law enforcement faces a "dire situation."
"We are short in Pennsylvania right now just over 1,200 municipal police officers," he said. "Think about that. Not just here in Erie, but all across Pennsylvania. We simply do not have enough police officers to fill the vacant spots before we even think about making additions beyond that."
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The Pennsylvania State Police Department is in a similar situation, Shapiro said, noting that in the 1990s there were 10,000 cadets enrolled annually in its training program for aspiring troopers. Today, the average is 1,000.
To counter the workforce shortages, Shapiro is proposing a three-year income tax credit worth up to $2,500 annually to recruit new police officers, teachers and nurses.
He's also proposing an investment of $16.4 million to pay for four additional cadet training classes for the Pennsylvania State Police, which could put as many as 400 new troopers on the highways and in the rural communities that rely on the agency for law enforcement protection.
Shapiro is also asking the General Assembly to establish a separate funding mechanism for State Police, called the Public Safety and Protection Fund, that would shift about $100 million a year for five years from state gas tax revenue to pay for the State Police.
The tax credit
If it becomes law, the new tax credit would take effect this year and could be claimed when a person files their 2024 taxes.
Anyone who receives a certification in those three fields would be eligible, including people who have state-recognized credentials from outside Pennsylvania and move here.
The tax credit is anticipated to cost $25 million over three years.
State Police funding
Shapiro's proposed funding for the State Police has long been discussed by state officials. The agency is now funded through state gasoline tax revenue, known formally as the Motor License Fund, which Shapiro said pits the agency against infrastructure funding.
He would shift $100 million a year for five years away from the Motor License Fund to fund Pennsylvania State Police until the agency is paid for out of the General Fund, which has an $11 billion surplus.
The move, he said, would free up an additional $1.5 billion for roads and bridges while "ensuring law enforcement have the resources they need to keep our communities safe. "
Other budget investments
Shapiro's budget would also:
Invest $105 million into the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency's Violence Intervention and Prevention program.
Invest $50 million as an initial investment for 911 dispatching as part of efforts to create a "stable" funding dispatching services.
Shapiro noted that one in every four dispatching jobs are vacant in Northwestern Pennsylvania, with one in every five such jobs vacant statewide.
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What others said
Among those in attendance Thursday was Erie Bureau of Police Chief Daniel Spizarny, who said that since the 1980s police departments from large Southern cities, including Atlanta, Miami and Houston, as well as federal and state agencies, have come to Erie to recruit law enforcement officers.
"The Erie area has been exporting many talented students across the country," he said. "But in just the past three years, we've been noticing a marked decrease in the number of candidates available."
The number of candidates on the list from which the city of Erie hires has dropped from 90 to 73 to 46. Twenty-six agencies pull from that list, he noted.
"You can see where the critical need is starting to rise here," he said. "Erie Police Department has a complement of 194 sworn officers. Right now, we're down approximately 15. We're extremely concerned."
Bill Hale is program director for the Mercyhurst Municipal Police Academy, which is a full-time, six-month program that meets the minimum requirements of entry-level police officers as set by the Pennsylvania Municipal Police Officer’s Education and Training Commission. The academy has been operated by Mercyhurst University in Erie since 1977 and has graduated more than 1,000 cadets.
Hale said class sizes are cyclical. He's seen classes of 35 and 40 cadets to just 10 or 11. Shapiro met Thursday with 14 cadets who are on track to graduate in June. Hale noted that "political winds" tend to impact recruitment, but he's starting to see a change.
"I can sense it's starting to change," (for the better), he said.
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Shapiro said Thursday there are both financial and non-financial ways to address the shortages.
"Another part of this is all of us speaking with one voice and stating very clearly over and over and over again that policing is a noble profession," Shapiro said. "We are asking more and more of our police and we need to make sure that they have more and more of our support while also holding them to a high standard of care in our communities and a high standard of training and excellence."
Matthew Rink can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @ETNRink.
This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Josh Shapiro pitches tax credit to bolster PA police recruitment