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Rendell defends position in budget crisis

August 12, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

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GREENCASTLE, Pa. -- Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell says he's finished making concessions for now and will hold out for the funding levels he wants for counties and schools as negotiations for the 2009-10 state budget continue.

Rendell, in Franklin County on Wednesday for a press conference about Norfolk Southern's Crescent Corridor initiative, took time out to talk about Pennsylvania's budget situation. He made the trip to the GOP-dominated area on the 43rd day after the Pennsylvania General Assembly missed its budget deadline, suspending pay for state workers for a month and halting aid checks for many programs.

Rendell defended his role in the budget stalemate, saying that while an agreement now could temporarily relieve agencies of their financial pain, he's concerned about their long-term well-being.

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The governor used county government allotments as an example.

"They had a choice, and the choice was to run out of cash for a few weeks or have their budget cut by hundreds of millions of dollars," Rendell said. "I chose to stand and fight so they wouldn't have those massive cuts, which would've affected services for virtually every person in all the counties."

Pennsylvania's 67 counties would have received 20 percent to 40 percent less had the leading proposal, Senate Bill 850, passed in full, according to Rendell.

In 2008, Franklin County, which budgets on a calendar year, received $20.2 million for general operations and a variety of services. The commissioners anticipated receiving $22.1 million from the state for 2009. The county received funding as expected through June, but the commissioners do not know what to expect in future months from the state.

Rendell, who said he already proposed $2.4 billion in cuts, reiterated his call for increased revenues, possibly through a higher personal income tax. He told reporters that revenue increases are needed to preserve education, protect older citizens and provide health care for thousands of children.

"So far, I'm the only one who has made concessions. ... The ball's in their court," he said.

In responding to a question about one of his jokes that has been railed against, the governor shared that he sees a changed atmosphere in the state and national government. People no longer "have fun and talk about competing ideas," but scream at each other in an attitude of "war, war, war."

"We're all acting like it's Armageddon. We're all acting like we're enemies of each other," he said.

Rendell said he sent a letter to legislative leaders in March, asking them to join him in early budget negotiations. He expressed disappointment that it didn't happen.

"I'm still chagrined with the way we do business. ... This shouldn't have happened to any of the workers," Rendell said.

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