Local officials find fault with Rendell's spending plan

February 04, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell's plan to hold down taxes by raising fees has one township manager in Franklin County looking at an increase in the money the township pays to get rid of its trash.

Among new fees that Rendell outlined Tuesday in his proposed $22.7 billion budget for fiscal 2004-05 is a $5-per-ton increase in what municipalities pay to dispose of solid waste.

The money would pay off an $800 million environmental protection bond issue Rendell is proposing.

"At $5 a ton, that means it's going to cost the township $25,000 a year," said Washington Township Manager Michael A. Christopher.


The governor has no tax increase in his budget because he's deferring to the local governments through fees, he said.

"Everybody in Pennsylvania will pay more to get rid of their garbage," Christopher said.

He said he thinks a better way to go would be to take $2 from the $5 fee and funnel it into local recycling programs like the successful one in Washington Township.

"It's cause and effect," Christopher said.

In 2003, the township recycled more than 4,200 tons of material at the same time it had to dispose of nearly 5,000 tons of garbage at a landfill.

"That amount going to the landfill would almost double without recycling," he said.

Rendell's budget message includes $250 million for the state's Accountability Block Grant program to help school districts meet the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Rendell said Pennsylvania schools risk losing $721 million in federal funds if the requirements are not met.

"We certainly want to hear more about the way these block grants can be used," said Chambersburg schools Superintendent Edwin Sponseller.

The costs of special education and alternative education for the district, along with retirement and health care expenses, he said, "are spiraling out of control."

The Pennsylvania Department of Education standards for meeting No Child Left Behind requirements, however, are something "most superintendents feel is unrealistic," he said.

All but two of Chambersburg's 21 schools meet the current standards, Sponseller said, but the levels of proficiency set by the state increase over a period of years.

The 2005 standard is that 54 percent of all students be proficient or advanced in reading and 45 percent in math, according to the governor's statement.

"By 2014, every student, including those in special education and those who do not speak English, are all expected to reach proficiency in those subjects," Sponseller said.

Rendell also asked for legislation "that holds our academic leaders more accountable for the performance of every student. ... We need contracts with superintendents and principals that are renewed based in part on improved student performance."

"If he wants real accountability, he should look at Act 195 and teacher tenure," Sponseller said.

He said the state's collective bargaining law for districts and tenure "makes it very difficult to fire an incompetent teacher."

Superintendents are contract employees, he said.

State Sen. Terry Punt, R-Waynesboro, was home with the flu Tuesday, but said: "I listened to the (governor's) speech. It was a good presentation. I agree with 95 percent of it."

Punt said he has serious questions about the amount of money Rendell wants to borrow, which he said could affect the state's bond rating.

"I question if he needs to borrow $2 billion for economic stimulation. I think $1.2 billion is much more realistic," Punt said.

"We have to look at long-term indebtedness. Last year we had a tax-and-spend budget. This year it looks like it sounds more like borrow and spend," Punt said.

State Rep. Patrick Fleagle, R-Franklin, said the governor is going "overboard with his borrowing and spending" proposals, but did hear some good ideas.

"I was happy with some things, particularly his proposals for schools and the $250 million in performance incentive grants," Fleagle said.

"I'm hoping he's serious this year, particularly with his education budget," he said.

Fleagle said the governor did propose another 10 percent increase in funding to local libraries, which saw state funding cut dramatically in last year's budget.

"It certainly was a long and tedious budget address," Fleagle said of the 28-page address. "It was long on fluff and short on substance."

Fleagle said appropriation hearings begin today in Harrisburg.

"We'll be looking more closely at the budget and getting into the details of it," he said.

Staff members Don Aines and Bill Kohler contributed to this story.

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