Why do state troopers guard private casinos?
With the ranks of state troopers stretched thin, the practice of having troopers stationed at the slots casinos surfaced again last week at a Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearing.
An additional 11 troopers will be assigned to this duty when Nemacolin Woodlands in Fayette County opens a table games casino later this year, said State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan.
About 140 troopers are spread across the operating casinos. They are involved in handling hundreds of incidents each year at the casinos, Noonan said.
State police charge the casinos for their expenses.
Those troopers could be put on highway patrol if they didn't have to guard the casinos, said Sen. Pat Vance, R-31, Camp Hill.
"There is something wrong with having a state agency guarding a private business," she said. "I don't like the message we are sending."
Sen. Robert Tomlinson, R-6, Bensalem, countered that the casinos are unlike other private businesses due to the heavy state regulation. State government has a stake in the casinos because of the huge amount of slots tax revenue going to property tax relief, he added.
"There is a huge state investment in that private enterprise," said Tomlinson.
The hearings by the House and Senate Appropriations Committee on Gov. Tom Corbett's fiscal 2013-14 state budget proposal will wrap up next week.
For three weeks, cabinet secretaries, elected state officeholders and commission heads and presidents of institutions like Pennsylvania State University that receive state aid appear before lawmakers to justify their spending requests and answer questions.
These hearings are a prime example of the checks and balances inherent in state government.
Lawmakers will use the information gleaned from the testimony to fashion their own revisions to the governor's proposal in coming weeks.
Lawmakers get a chance to grill executive branch officials about how they run their agencies and frequently make requests of them for additional information.
They also make their preferences known for state funding priorities.
At the budget hearing for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, senators of both parties stressed the importance of keeping funding for the Keystone Fund, which underwrites local recreation and park projects, and finding a stable funding source for the state heritage areas.
Five senators from northeast Pennsylvania are on appropriations. They are Sens. David Argall, R-29, Tamaqua; Lisa Baker, R-20, Lehman Twp.; John Blake, D-22, Archbald; John Gordner, R-27, Berwick, and John Yudichak, D-14 Nanticoke.
(Robert Swift is Harrisburg bureau chief for Times-Shamrock Communications newspapers. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.)