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Commonwealth Foundation


Rendell's Wicked Game

by Matthew Brouillette,
President
 

People are but mere pawns for Gov. Ed Rendell's use as political leverage in an inexorable pursuit of his policy agenda.

Thousands of state employees were unnecessarily furloughed by the governor in July, 2007 amid a Mexican stand-off with Senate Republicans over a budget several days past its deadline.

In 2008, it was Pennsylvania's doctors who were cast as mere objects. With Senate Republicans refusing to acquiesce to his plan to dramatically expand state government's role in health care, the governor rejected a re-authorization of state subsidies for physicians' medical malpractice insurance–which is required by law and expensive because trial attorneys can sue for unlimited amounts in Pennsylvania.

With the state now staring at a budget shortfall forecasted to reach $1-2 billion by mid-2009, Rendell is withholding a modest 2.25 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for non-unionized state employees.

Docking the pay of these employees will save $14.5 million. While it is a significant amount, it comes nowhere close to filling the budget gap. But, to Rendell's political benefit, it creates the false perception that he has already "cut to the bone," setting the stage for a tax increase on working Pennsylvanians to continue funding his pet programs and initiatives. Therein lays the enraging part of his wicked game.

On November 7th, when Rendell knew the state's budget shortfall was already north of $500 million, he announced the Commonwealth would be spending $15.6 million on "tourism promotion," including:

$100,000 to the Pennsylvania Golf Course Owners Association to promote golfing in Pennsylvania.
$100,000 to the Pennsylvania Ski Areas Association for the development and promotion of SkiPA.com.
$75,000 to the Pennsylvania Winery Association for the promotion of Pennsylvania's wine trails.
$50,000 for development of the Pennsylvania Culinary Society.

Of course, golfing, skiing, and touring wine trails are fine leisurely endeavors; however, few people would argue that they are core government services. Indeed, one Department of Public Welfare manager said, "I am angry because I feel [Rendell] personally put us here with his overspending."

Not only is it overspending, but inappropriate spending of taxpayer money that could either fund vital government functions or be left in the paychecks of working Pennsylvanians. Instead, Gov. Rendell has deemed other "priorities" more important than families' budgets. For example, in October Gov. Rendell handed out $4.6 million to the multi-billion-dollar Archer Daniels Midland Company for its cocoa processing facility in Hazleton. He also gave out more than a half-million dollars in taxpayer money to businesses as early Christmas gifts:

$61,505 for "high-efficiency washing machines" for businesses like Streams of Water Laundry, which received $7,500 of taxpayer money.
$91,001 for "upgraded lighting" for businesses like the West Branch Tennis Club, which received $7,500 of taxpayer money.
$137,284 for "high-efficiency heating and air conditioning equipment" for businesses like Aurora Leigh Bed and Breakfast, which received $7,128.

Then in November, Gov. Rendell gave out $44 million in "recreation and conservation projects," which included $45,200 for snow grooming equipment to the Forest County Snowmobile Club; $142,500 for "workshops and technical assistance related to planting trees and shrubs as buffers along streams;" and $45,000 for the development of boat launches and access along the Beaver and Shenango rivers.

Although Gov. Rendell argues there are economic benefits from transferring income from one taxpayer to another, at least one of his programs has been an abysmal failure. According to his administration's own data, the $75 million Film Tax Credit–which was enacted in 2007 after the successful lobbying effort of indicted former lawmaker Mike Veon–has not produced any measurable economic benefit. Zack and Miri Make a Porno–an NC-17-rated flick replete with raunchiness, as the title forebodes–received nearly $6 million in tax credits. What's worse is that filmmakers have admitted they would make movies in Pennsylvania without subsidies or tax credits.

These are just a few of the examples of Gov. Rendell's misspending of our tax money. Suffice it to say, there is plenty to cut in Pennsylvania's budget without affecting essential programs for citizens in need or the state employees serving them.

Yet, Gov. Rendell insists on using people as his pawns in order to push his tax-borrow-and-spend agenda. While we understand that he truly believes government can address Pennsylvania's social and economic problems better than people left to their own devices, Gov. Rendell should stop holding people's livelihoods hostage in order to get the General Assembly to capitulate. It's time to end his wicked game.

# # #

Matthew J. Brouillette is president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation (www.CommonwealthFoundation.org), an independent, non-profit public policy research and educational institute based in Harrisburg, PA

Sources: Governor Rendell's News Releases for October and November 2008; accessible at
http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?open=514&objID=368328&mode=2


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