by Lowman S. Henry | February 06, 2007

Fighting the Rendell budget a litmus test for legislative Republicans

Governor Ed Rendell has presented his 2007-08 state budget to the General Assembly proposing a massive increase in state expenditures and the raising of at least seven different taxes or fees to cover the spending spree.

Chief among the proposed tax increases is a hike in the state’s income tax from 6% to 7%. Rendell is attempting to sell the increase as a means of delivering long promised property tax relief to Pennsylvanians.  However, only a bit more than a third of the revenue from the sales tax increase would actually be dedicated to offsetting property taxes, the rest would go into the general fund to pay for the governor’s spending initiatives.

If this sounds familiar, it should.  Remember slot machine gambling was legalized in Pennsylvania to create a tax revenue stream that would significantly reduce if not eliminate property taxes?  Then a “portion” of that money got allocated to other causes.  The result has been only a small number of lower to middle income senior citizens have seen any rebate on their property tax bills.  Worse, without restrictions on school boards, property tax rates have continued to soar – more than outpacing any property tax reduction anyone has received.

Governor Rendell’s budget address was the biggest outline of a socialist agenda since Mikael Gorbachev last appeared before the Politburo.  From billions in new subsidies for mass transit and highway transportation, to hundreds of millions for welfare benefits, to a brazen new socialized medicine program, the Rendell budget boosts spending.

And who does the governor blame for this fiscal orgy?  He blames George W. Bush and the federal government.  Rendell dedicated an inordinate amount of time in his budget address whining about the cost of federal mandates.  He said the state must now pick up the tab, and raise taxes accordingly.  What the governor did not mention was the wide array of state mandates inflicted upon county and municipal governments and local school districts that carry either insufficient or no state funding with them.  He also failed to mention the unfunded mandate that is his new health care proposal which will have to be paid for by businesses large and small.

Having borrowed the state into over $12 billion in new debt during his first term, Governor Spendell now must turn to tax hikes to feed his spending addiction. This time, the General Assembly must say no – even if it means an extended budget crisis and a shut-down of state government.

Over the past four years, a coalition of minority Democrats and RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) in the General Assembly has passed the governor’s big government spending programs, budgets, and tax increases.  This is the primary reason Republicans lost their majority status in the state House of Representatives.

The upcoming budget battle will be THE defining moment of this decade for legislative Republicans.  If they give in and approve a tax increase – any tax increase – they can expect to be consigned to minority status for the foreseeable future.  As for the southeastern RINOs who have given in to the governor in the past – they need only look at their diminished ranks to understand the ramifications of their past votes.

Fortunately, new Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati is saying any tax hike is dead on arrival.  The question is whether this untested leader will be able to stick to his guns.  Several years ago Senate Republicans held out against Rendell until December – and then folded like a house of cards.  This year, both Senate and House GOP leadership must make it known there will be no tax increase – and stand by that pledge no matter what.

The pressure from the spending interests will, of course, grow with intensity with each passing day the budget is late.  But legislators – especially those of the Republican persuasion – must understand that such pressure will be nothing compared to the ire of the voters if they cave on this issue.  If they do cave, the uproar over the pay-jacking will see like the good old days.