Thursday, July 20, 2006

Tony Phyrillas: Rendell's spending is out of control

Two interesting articles recently crossed my path. One was an analysis of the growth in state spending under Gov. Ed Rendell by the Associated Press. The other was an examination of Rendell's fiscal year 2006-07 spending plan by Matthew J. Brouillette, president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank based in Harrisburg.

The conclusion of both reports is inescapable. Ed Rendell has presided over the largest spending spree in state history. He has shuffled money around like a carnival shell game. Somebody is going to have to pay for Rendell's out-of-control spending. And, regrettably, it's going to be the beleaguered taxpayers of Pennsylvania.

If Rendell is not stopped — and Nov. 7 is the day to put a halt to his spending orgy — Pennsylvania residents will face massive tax hikes in 2007 to make up for Rendell's runaway spending.

In a recent commentary on the Commonwealth Foundation's Web site, Brouillette points out that Rendell's tenure as governor has been a costly one for Pennsylvania families.

"When Gov. Ed Rendell assumed office in January 2003, the General Fund budget (which is only about half of what state government spends annually) cost the average family of four in Pennsylvania more than $6,731. With the recently passed $26.114 billion 2006-07 General Fund budget — a 7.6 percent increase in spending over last year’s budget — the cost of state government to that same family jumped to $8,400, a 26.2 percent increase in General Fund spending, or $1,673 more, in just four years," he wrote.

The full analysis can be viewed at the group's Web site, www.commonwealthfoundation.org.

The Associated Press analyzed 20 years worth of spending increases and found that state government expenditures grew by 28 percent so far under Rendell. That compares to a 12 percent increase in Gov. Tom Ridge's second term and a 26 percent increase in the second term of Gov. Bob Casey, another tax-and-spend liberal.

State spending during Rendell's first three years in office increased faster than the national average, according to the Associated Press. Counting the budget for the current fiscal year, which Rendell recently signed, the state's General Fund budget has grown by $5.7 billion, or 28 percent, since Rendell took office in 2003, according to the Associated Press analysis.

Rendell has been funding his massive spending spree by dipping into reserves and taking from the spoils of the $1 billion earned income tax hike he pushed through in 2003 and a host of smaller tax hikes in subsequent years.

Rendell is also looking under his desk for money to fund the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. It seems that Rendell's pie-in-the-sky promise that gambling would solve all of Pennsylvania's fiscal woes is still a dream. He can't even scrape enough cash together to keep the Gaming Board in business while it reviews casino applications.

GOP gubernatorial hopeful Lynn Swann has criticized Rendell for what appears to be a clear violation of the state constitution. According to the Legislative Reference Bureau, a nonpartisan group of government lawyers, Rendell violated the state constitution when his budget secretary authorized a $7.3 million transfer from the Department of Revenue to the state Gaming Control Board.

"Yet again, Ed Rendell is ignoring state law and he is shifting taxpayer dollars to cover our government's operating expenses," Swann said in a written statement. "Obviously, the governor does not think the laws of the commonwealth apply to him."

According to the Legislative Reference Bureau, it is unconstitutional to shift funds between state agencies without approval from the General Assembly. Rendell also sidestepped state law when he signed a budget that will drain more than half of Pennsylvania's "rainy day fund" without complying with the state's requirement for a two-thirds vote by the members of the Legislature, Swann says.

The way Rendell is spending our money, expect a tsunami to hit Pennsylvania in 2007.

Returning to TV and radio

I'll be making a return appearance on the "Journalists Roundtable" program on the Pennsylvania Cable Network. The one-hour panel discussion will be shown tonight (7/20) at 8 on PCN, which is available on most cable systems in the state. Consult your local listings for the channel in your area. "Journalists Roundtable" will be rebroadcast Sunday at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m.

If you're near a radio Monday afternoon, tune in to the Nick Lawrence Show on WPAZ 1370 AM, where I will be Nick's guest in the studio beginning at 4 p.m. You can call the station with questions or comments about current issues while I'm on the air. If you're at a computer, you can listen to a live broadcast of the show over the Internet at www.1370wpaz.com

Tony Phyrillas is a columnist for The Mercury in Pottstown, Pa. E-mail him at tphyrillas@pottsmerc.com