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A budget without politics?

March 06, 2003

Republican state lawmakers' reaction to the budget presented this week by Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell has been mixed. Some applauded his bare-bones package while others wondered what surprises they'll see when the supplemental budget arrives in three weeks. We hope lawmakers can skip the partisan sniping and work on the budget with a view toward what's best for the state.

Last year's legislative priority was not the state's future, but an all-out election-year effort to avoid raising taxes, in part by cutting the state's $1.1 billion Rainy Day Fund in half. In February 2002 we said that there was no emergency that justified that, and worse, no plan to avoid doing it again in 2003.

Rendell's budget would take an additional $250 million from that source and $330 million from the state's tobacco-settlement fund, in part to pay a $320 million increase in state debt payments, necessary because of new borrowing by former Gov. Mark Schweiker.

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Our point in reviewing this history is to note that before Democrat Rendell was elected, the Republican majority did not cover itself in glory on fiscal matters. Lawmakers went along with Schweiker's plan because it promised temporary relief from the state's pain - and got them safely through the election.

Now the Rainy Day Fund and other easily tapped revenue sources are shrinking and the question is whether lawmakers will accept responsibility for their actions or try to pin the tail on the new governor.

Passing Rendell's first budget but not his supplemental proposal would close the $2 billion-plus hole in the budget, but not address what many citizens consider a top priority - cutting the state's dependence on property taxes to pay for education and increasing the state's share of school funding.

As Senate Minority Leader Robert Mellow told The Associated Press, it's up to lawmakers to decide whether passing this first budget is adequate to ensure prosperity for the state. The governor has wisely decided to give them a choice, rather than trying to strongarm them into doing things his way.

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