Lawmakers going off-the-books for police training
$2 fee on rental cars follows pattern of fire training
THE LEGISLATURE APPEARS POISED to shift the cost of municipal police training on to people renting cars in Massachusetts, adopting a funding philosophy for law enforcement that was pioneered decades ago for firefighters and which some believe has spiraled out of control.
The Senate and House moved on Wednesday to pass legislation assessing a $2 fee on all rental car contracts with the estimated $7 to $8 million in revenue (some say the amount could go as high as $10 million) going to fund training programs for municipal police officers. The bill, once it makes it through both branches, will go to the governor, who has not indicated what he will do with it.
Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez of Jamaica Plain, the chairman of the House budget committee, said the new funding approach was needed to provide a steady stream of money for police training. He also indicated another advantage of the approach was that the cost would be shouldered primarily by visitors from out-of-state. Sanchez’s counterpart in the Senate, Karen Spilka of Ashland, said she was in favor of the funding approach because the police needed a reliable, dedicated funding stream.
The rental car fee to support police training is patterned after a long-established assessment on property and casualty insurance companies to support fire training. That assessment, initiated at a very low level in the early 1970s in response to two horrific fires, has grown rapidly recently, tripling to more than $28 million over the last 14 years. In recent years, lawmakers have come to view the purpose of the account more broadly, using it to fund virtually any municipal expense that has a connection to fires or firefighting.
The final assessment on insurance companies selling property and casualty policies in Massachusetts will rise well above the $27 million appropriation once fringe benefit costs for personnel are added in.
Baker this year tried to shift the roughly $3 million cost of a State Police arson squad into the line item for the Department of Fire Services, but the Legislature rejected that approach. Baker typically vetoes the earmarks inserted into the line item by lawmakers and the Legislature overrides his vetoes easily.The off-the-books funding mechanisms the Legislature appears to be embracing were the focus of a recent feature in CommonWealth. In that article, Frank O’Brien, the vice president of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, was quoted as saying the account has morphed into something much bigger than intended and the cost is being passed along in the form of a “hidden tax” to insurance customers. He also questioned whether one industry should bear the cost for a public safety function that benefits the state as a whole.
O’Brien said on Wednesday that the Legislature’s budget for fiscal 2019 indicates little has changed except the numbers, which keep going up. “I don’t care what neighborhood you come from, $27 million is a lot of money,” he said.