As he serves out his final months in office, Governor Ed Rendell has accomplished something I didn’t think was possible: he has made the public policy debate in Harrisburg even more political, contentious, and dishonest.
Each year of his tenure, Rendell has precipitated a budget &quot;crisis&quot; by refusing to engage with legislative leaders until the final days of the current fiscal year. So far, Ed is oh-for-seven in meeting the June 30 deadline and no one in the Capitol expects next year to be different.
To heighten the crisis environment, Rendell this year refused to pay state employees even though he had the authority to do so. Having now vetoed most of the line-items in the Senate-originated version of the budget, government employees will finally be paid but most programs remain unfunded, holding Pennsylvanians hostage until legislators cave in to his demand for higher taxes.
Rendell’s most lasting legacy will probably be his corrosive practice of telling half-truths, especially using subsets of statistics to distort perspective and imply incorrect conclusions. &quot;The governor uses numbers to make a point,&quot; Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo told The Philadelphia Inquirer. &quot;His numbers are not inaccurate, although sometimes they do not tell the whole story.&quot; Which is like saying the Phillies should get rid of Ryan Howard because he strikes out so much (which he does) – just pay no attention to his home runs, stellar defense, clubhouse leadership, World Series ring, or National League Most Valuable Player award.
Rendell’s approval rating stands at negative-14 percent (39 percent positive/ 53 percent negative), and he says he doesn’t care how unpopular he becomes – what one might call &quot;The George W. Bush Approach&quot;. Considering the national mood over the deepening recession and the emerging discontent with President Obama’s agenda, Rendell’s intransigence may cost Pennsylvania’s elected Democrats next November.
Chronic overspending in Harrisburg is the main cause of Pennsylvania’s economic underperformance, which has seriously worsened under Rendell. Over the last three years, Pennsylvania’s Gross Domestic Product grew at 25 percent below the U.S. average, meaning that we lost out on billions in wealth and thousands of jobs that we should have created but didn’t.
Using every tool at his disposal, Rendell continues to maximize pressure on the General Assembly to force a tax increase. Republican legislative leaders – particularly Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jake Corman, and House Republican Leader Sam Smith – continue to hold the line against him.
After decades of overspending, this budget standoff will determine whether Pennsylvania state government achieves a sustainable spending trajectory for the future. This year is only the first of at least three bad budget years: for now, the commonwealth will face reduced tax collections from a shrinking economy and after two years the federal &quot;stimulus&quot; money will run out and a state government pension crisis will hit.
Of course, Ed Rendell will be long gone by then.