Pa. Budget Deal Process So Dysfunctional That Support for Politicians Plummets

Article excerpt

HARRISBURG -- Gov. Ed Rendell and legislative leaders of both parties emerge as losers in the aftermath of a state budget agreement that could end the longest budget impasse in state history, political experts say.

"Everyone's taken a hit in terms of public support," said Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. "There's enough dissatisfaction with the whole process and the handling of this budget that there's a lot of people wounded politically."

Rendell's "paid a very steep price," said Borick. "He doesn't have the same standing he once did."

Rendell, Senate Republicans and Democrats and House Democrats Friday night announced a $27.9 billion budget deal that may be voted on in both chambers later this week. As of today, the budget is 82 days late. Pennsylvania remains the only state without a budget.

Casinos, tax cheats, and public schools are among the winners under the budget agreement while smokers, theater patrons, businesses, and nonprofits running small games of chance are among the losers.

A poll earlier this month by Franklin & Marshall College showed public support for Rendell and lawmakers at an all-time low.

"There's no way you can say after this process that legislators and the governor come out winners," said G. Terry Madonna, professor and pollster at F&M who directed the poll.

"The process used to get it done was dysfunctional," he said.

House Democratic leaders spent much of the month of June trying to round up votes for 16 percent income tax increase -- sought by Rendell -- but support never materialized. Senate Republicans became "Dr. No" in the words of House Appropriations Chairman Dwight Evans, a Philadelphia Democrat, saying "no" to everything. At the governor's mansion, Rendell sat by a blue plastic wading pool on weekends waiting for legislators to call. He said they never did.

The state faced a $3.2 billion revenue shortfall.

The agreement announced Friday saw GOP leaders making concessions such as agreeing to lift the sales tax exemption on "theater, dance, music and performing arts admissions. …