Big spender Ed Rendell tries to bankrupt Pennsylvania
The Republican-controlled state legislature rubber-stamps Rendell's $26 billion budget.
The Pennsylvania Constitution requires the General Assembly to adopt a balanced budget before the start of the new fiscal year. That deadline came and went at 12:01 a.m. on July 1.
For the fourth year in a row, the most expensive state legislature in the United States failed to meet its constitutional obligation to approve a budget on time. Maybe we shouldn't expect too much from these people.
Speaker of the House John Perzel told a TV interviewer that at least 30 members of the legislature had trouble qualifying for a credit card despite their $72,000 annual salaries. If these financial wizards can't balance their own household budgets, how can they pass a $26 billion spending plan on time?
Unlike previous years, when the legislature missed the budget deadline by weeks, Harrisburg's finest managed to get the budget adopted less than 24 hours after the deadline this year.
The budget passed the House by a margin of 130-68. All of the "no" votes were Republicans. It was closer in the Senate, 28-21, with eight Republican senators joining Democrats to give Gov. Ed Rendell everything he wanted.
Republicans in the Senate could have drawn a line in the sand against the free-spending Rendell, but decided to cave at the last minute and embark on their annual two-month summer vacation.
The eight Republicans who gave ringing endorsements to Rendell's tax-and-spend ways included none other than Chip Brightbill and Robert Jubelirer, the two top GOP leaders in the Senate who coincidentally were tossed out by Republican voters in the May primary.
One of the reasons Brightbill and Jubelirer lost was the perception they worked too closely with the liberal Rendell. Brightbill and Jubelirer are either dense or they decided to stick it to the voters one last time by siding with Rendell.
Also supporting Rendell's budget were Republican Sens. Joe Conti, Charles Lemmond and Noah W. Wenger, three career politicians who voted for the infamous 2005 pay raise but decided to retire from the Senate rather than face the voters this year.
A look at the House vote also shows that many of the legislators who were voted out of office in the primary or who plan to retire this year also supported Rendell's budget.
The $26.1 billion spending plan is a 6 percent increase over last year even though the inflation rate is 3 percent.
Since Rendell took office in 2003 declaring that "government must live within its means," Pennsylvania General Fund spending has risen from $20.4 billion to $26.1 billion — an increase of 26.2 percent, according to Matthew J. Brouillette, president of the independent Commonwealth Foundation in Harrisburg.
Skyrocketing spending under Rendell, coupled with the inability of Rendell and the GOP legislative leadership to deliver meaningful property tax relief to homeowners, prompted some legislators to fire a few choice words at their colleagues who joined the spending orgy.
"At a time when the men and women of the Commonwealth are working to make ends meet and the legislature has recently voted to restrict local school district spending, I cannot in good conscious support legislation that increases state spending," Republican Sen. Rob Wonderling said.
There was remarkably little discussion in the days leading up to the budget vote about returning any part of the $700 million to $800 million budget surplus to the taxpayers (where it came from originally as part of Rendell's massive 2003 increase in the state income tax).
"Plans to spend these so-called 'windfall profits' rather than return it to the taxpayers who were overcharged by state government is unacceptable," Wonderling said.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann appears to understand the fuzzy math Rendell and his legislative lackeys are using: "Simple math indicates that you can't spend at twice the rate of inflation and not soon run out of money," Swann said. "This out-of-control budget will dramatically hinder Pennsylvania's economy for the next several years."
Rendell has fumbled the ball on numerous issues, but Swann has yet to run with it. The budget fiasco on top of the pay raise Rendell signed into law and Rendell's shuffle on the tax cut issue is prime ammunition for Swann, who needs to catch fire to unseat Rendell.
"This bloated financial plan — which Rendell and his staff constructed — is just another example of the governor's inability to reign-in out of control spending in Pennsylvania," Swann said.
It was no surprise that the lockstep Democrats in the House and Senate supported Rendell's spending plan, but the Republican defections to the Rendell camp must be answered swiftly by voters in November.
The same anti-incumbent fervor that led to the removal of 17 legislators on May 16 should continue this fall when all 203 members of the House and 25 of the 50 members of the Senate will face re-election.
If your state legislator voted in favor of expanding the Harrisburg bureaucracy and spending the $700 million surplus, it's time to vote him or her out in November.
And it's time to put an end to Rendell's four-year record of broken promises.
Tony Phyrillas is a leading conservative political columnist and blogger based in Pennsylvania. He is a veteran journalist with 25 years experience as a reporter, editor and columnist for several newspapers. Phyrillas received recognition for column writing in 2010 from the Associated Press Managing Editors, in 2007 from Suburban Newspapers of America and in 2006 from the Society of Professional Journalists, Keystone Chapter. A graduate of Penn State University, Phyrillas is the city editor and political columnist for The Mercury, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning daily newspaper in Pottstown, Pa. In addition to The Mercury website (www.pottsmerc.com), his columns are featured on more than a dozen political websites and blogs. Phyrillas is a frequent guest (and occasional host) on talk radio and has been a panelist on the "Journalists Roundtable" public affairs TV program on the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN). Phyrillas was named one of the '10 Leading Greek-American Bloggers in the World' in 2007 by Odyssey: The World of Greece magazine. BlogNetNews.com ranked Phyrillas the Most Influential Political Blogger in Pennsylvania for three consecutive years (2007-2010). You can follow Phyrillas on Twitter @TonyPhyrillas