The head of the Iowa State Troopers Association says you’d have to go back more than four decades to find a time when there were fewer Troopers patrolling the highways of this state.
“We currently have 382 working within the State Patrol which is the lowest it has been in 45 years,” says Iowa State Troopers Association president Darin Snedden. “So we currently are working at the same staffing levels as we had in 1964 which creates some unique challenges for the Troopers who are currently working thousands of miles more of roads than we did have back in 1964.”
It takes Troopers longer to respond to some accidents because Troopers are covering a larger area of the state, for example, and Snedden says the Iowa State Highway Patrol needs more operating money to hire more Troopers.
“We wish that we would get a funding source, such as the Road Use Tax Fund, to give us a secure source of funding so that we would not have to deal with across-the-board cuts,” Snedden says.
Governor Culver ordered a 10-percent across-the-board cut in the state budget in October and Troopers are taking furlough days to cut costs. State gas taxes are deposited in the Road Use Tax Fund, a state account which may only be used for the state’s roads. A consulting firm hired by Governor Culver has recommended that $50 million from that Road Use Tax Fund be used to finance Iowa State Highway Patrol operations.
Critics argue the Iowa Constitution stipulates that money should be reserved for roads and bridges. Trooper Snedden disputes that.
“The Constitution explicitly states that motor vehicle fees and (gas) taxes shall be used for construction, maintenance and supervision of the public highways,” Snedden says.
Troopers provide that “supervision” according to Snedden, and he says the entire $50 million Iowa State Highway Patrol budget amounts to a little less than five percent of what’s in that special account annually. Snedden has been a State Trooper for over 19 years and he’s seen the highs and lows.
“We do not have near the Trooper strength that we used to have,” Snedden says. “As few years ago as 2001, we were at a high of 455 Troopers and now, we’re at a level of 382.”
A state law passed in 1981 stipulated that the gas taxes and motor vehicle fees placed in the State Road Use Tax Fund were not to be used for salaries in the Department of Public Safety, but from 1984 to 2000, the legislature and Governors Branstad and Vilsack approved budgets which funded the Iowa State Patrol with money from the Road Use Tax Fund.
As you can see from the map provided by the Iowa State Troopers Association (ISP District Staffing map PDF – larger image), there are very few Troopers on patrol after midnight, and a few Troopers are covering vast distances during the day and night shifts. Each “D” on the chart represents the day shift for Troopers, which generally runs from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Each “N” on the chart represents the night shift which runs fro 3 p.m. to midnight. The midnight shift — represented by each “M” on the map — generally runs from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., according to Snedden.