Pennsylvania's tax-and-spend governor proposes a $28.3 billion state budget riddled with pork projects and massive borrowing.
Stop me if you've heard this one before. Gov. Ed Rendell wants to spend more of your money.
He also wants you to pay a higher tax on your electric bill to help the state find alternative sources of energy. The governor calls it a "public benefits charge," but it's a tax on electricity.
He wants you to pay more for property insurance premiums so he can pay for flood-control projects in areas where people built their homes in flood plains.
And if you smoke, Rendell wants you to pay another 10 cents per pack on cigarettes and users of other tobacco products will pay new taxes so Rendell can build medical research facilities.
The additional $230 million in higher taxes and fees is just the tip of the spending iceberg.
In order to pay for his proposed $28.3 billion spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1, Rendell wants to dip into what is known as the "Rainy Day Fund." He also wants the state to go deeper into debt to pay for his $1.1 billion in new spending.
To feed his enormous appetite for spending other people's money, Rendell wants the state Legislature to increase the state's debt limit by $750 million, all of which would immediately be spent on various building projects. He also wants to borrow $270 million to rebuild bridges and other infrastructure.
If Rendell gets his way, this would be the fourth time the governor has pushed to raise the state's debt limit since taking office in 2003. In the past five years, state spending has increased by $7 billion. Over the same time frame, Pennsylvania has lost 80,000 manufacturing jobs.
If the proposed budget makes it through the Legislature, state spending in Pennsylvania would have risen at twice the rate of inflation under Rendell. The $7 billion increase in state spending over the past five years is nearly twice the amount of spending during the eight years of the Ridge/Schweiker administrations.
Rendell called the budget "tight" when he unveiled it before a joint session of the state Legislature. If $28.3 billion is tight, I’d hate to see what Rendell considers a "loose" budget.
In his first five years, Rendell borrowed $3.15 billion. To pay back the principal, interest and fees on the borrowing, Pennsylvania taxpayers will owe $4.76 billion, according to the House
Republican Policy Committee. If Rendell is allowed to borrow another $1.85 billion, taxpayers will be left with a bill of $3.1 billion when you factor in the principal, interest and fees for the loans.
"Hearing the governor this morning reminded me a little of Groundhog Day," House Republican Leader Sam Smith said Tuesday after Rendell released his budget. "The governor stood up, saw his shadow and proposed more taxes, borrowing and spending. It's the same story year after year."
State Rep. Tom Quigley, R-Montgomery, said spending under Gov. Rendell is out of control.
"The governor is repeating his pattern of looking for new ways to tax the people, and while he has proposed cuts to programs that have proven successful, he has reallocated that funding for his own personal spending priorities," Quigley said. "We should be looking at a budget with no new taxes and one where money that is cut is returned to the people, not to the governor's personal spending till."
As an economic stimulus, Rendell wants to give $400 rebates to about 475,000 low-income Pennsylvania residents who don't pay any income tax. Total cost would be $130 million.
The Republicans would rather see a reduction in the state income tax, a move that would save money for millions of working Pennsylvanians.
"Faced with the very real possibility of an economic downturn, we should be seeking a legitimate economic stimulus plan.," Quigley said. "Rolling back the Personal Income Tax to 2.8 percent, as I have been advocating for months, would spur families and businesses to spend more money and would strengthen the Commonwealth's economy. We need to give the money back to those people who contribute the most to our tax rolls — middle-income families and small businesses."
Rolling back the state income tax would return $260 million to taxpayers, Quigley said.
The elimination of school property taxes would provide an even bigger economic stimulus for Pennsylvania taxpayers.
"I would also urge the Democrat leadership to renew the property tax debate that started last week," Quigley said. "This is the main issue that the overwhelming majority of Pennsylvanians want to see addressed. The programs and initiatives outlined in Tuesday's budget need to be worked out over the coming weeks, but the issue of school property taxes needs to be addressed immediately."
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