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Rendell visits central Pa.

July 26, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Franklin County has rarely been fertile ground for Democrats seeking statewide offices, but Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell stopped in this Republican bastion Tuesday to tout his administration's record from the past 3 1/2 years, tailoring many of his statistics to the local audience.

Rendell told the audience of more than 130 people - including a number of Republicans - at the Franklin Fire Co. for a breakfast hosted by the county Democratic Committee that opponents have claimed he cares primarily about Philadelphia, where he was once mayor.

"The facts show that is pure cow dung," Rendell said.

Since he took office, Rendell said 9,200 jobs have been added in the county and the number of people working statewide is the highest ever. During his administration, $72.4 million from the state's $2.3 billion economic stimulus package has been distributed to 152 projects in the county, he said.

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During that time, Rendell said, the county's unemployment rate has dropped from 4.5 percent to 3.1 percent.

On education, Rendell said the state is paying $12 million more in state subsidies to county school districts than before he took office. While state subsidies have increased, the state's share as a percentage of some school districts' total budget, such as Chambersburg, have been decreasing for many years, according to district figures.

"For 30 years, Harrisburg has been trying to do property tax reform," Rendell said. A recently passed school property tax reform law will provide relief averaging 17 percent or more to seniors, he said.

Expanding income eligibility requirements to $35,000 will make 3,531 more senior citizen households eligible for property tax rebates in this county, eliminating property taxes for 1,872 homeowners, according to Rendell.

The property tax plan combines anticipated slot machine revenues with possible increases in earned income taxes that would have to be approved by referendum in school districts.

"Frankly, I believe we should have universal health care for all our citizens like every other developed country in the world," he said, adding that 300,000 more Pennsylvanians have health insurance than in 2002.

More than 1,200 of the approximately 8,000 acres of preserved farmland and open space in the county has been preserved during his tenure, Rendell said of his environmental record. The state is working to diversify energy sources and he said about four ethanol projects are in the works, along with biodiesel, coal liquification and wind energy programs.

Rendell later told DeEtta Antoun, who led efforts to stop an ethanol project in Greene Township, that the industry in this state would likely focus on ethanol from wood chips and be in the state's northern tier.

Rendell also touted his support of the new minimum wage law, which he said will benefit 400,000 Pennsylvanians, most of them adults. The increase from $5.15 an hour to $7.15 next summer will mean a $4,000 raise for those workers, he said.

The governor also said the state has agreed to pay the local 3 percent match for disaster relief in counties, such as Franklin, that received disaster declarations as a result of June flooding.

"We're not always going to be ahead by 24 or 22 points," Rendell said of his race against Republican nominee Lynn Swann. While he expects the campaign to tighten as the November election approaches, he said, "I think we're going to win by a decent margin."

Tony Barr, the write-in winner of the Democratic nomination for the Ninth District to the U.S. House of Representatives, also attended the breakfast. Andrew Alosi, the party nominee for the 89th District seat to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, was also on hand.

"It's great to see this many Democrats in Franklin County," said Clinton Barkdoll of Waynesboro, Pa. "I think it means we'll have a say" in the outcome of this fall's races, he said.

"The governor's priorities are creating good lives for Pennsylvanians," said Jet Whitney of Mercersburg, Pa.

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