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Pennsy gov's lean menu

March 04, 2003

Do you want any side dishes with that?

In effect, that's what Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell will say today when he makes his first budget address to a joint session of the Legislature. His bare-bones budget will give lawmakers a look at what will be cut if they don't find some new revenue.

The Democratic governor is anticipating Republican finger-pointing if he talks about a tax increase, but in fairness, his Republican predecessor left him with little maneuvering room. The state's Rainy Day Fund was cut in half to avoid an election-year tax increase, leaving Rendell with a cupboard that's almost bare, fiscally speaking.

Rendell was elected on a platform that promised to cut the state's reliance on property taxes for school funding, to add $1.5 billion in state education funding and to create new incentives for economic development.

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None of those initiatives is in the budget he plans to present tomorrow. Those initiatives, and what it will take to fund them, won't be discussed for several weeks, according to Associated Press reports.

The governor's plan is apparently to let those lawmakers for whom raising taxes is heresy spend a few weeks looking at the hard alternatives.

And Rendell is apparently preparing for the possibility that he won't be able to follow through on his promises right away. Last Thursday he offered more than $210 million in administrative spending cuts and is expected to identify others in today's speech.

Some lawmakers have expressed concern that the two-stage approach to the budget will be confusing and possibly unconstitutional.

We disagree. Offering lawmakers a look at what will happen if they don't find new revenue sources gives them a chance to contact their constituents and ask them whether they care more about educational or economic-development improvements, or keeping taxes down.

It's up to you, the governor is telling lawmakers. To us it seems like a strategy that is not only politically smart, but honest as well.

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