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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Rendell, Legislators flunk the 'Liberty Index'

The Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives, a free-market think tank, recently released its "Liberty Index" for 2006, a mid-term report card for Gov. Ed Rendell and the members of the Pennsylvania Legislature.

If you're a fan of Pennsylvania's ultra-liberal Democratic governor, you better send the kids out of the room. It's not going to be pretty.

"The purpose of the 'Liberty Index' is to inform Pennsylvanians how well (or how poorly) members of the General Assembly and Gov. Ed Rendell defended our Liberty," said Matthew J. Brouillette, president of the Commonwealth Foundation, based in Harrisburg.

The group touts the report card as the fairest and most comprehensive analysis on the overall performance of legislators and the governor. Unlike most organizations that only look at selective votes in their ratings, the Commonwealth Foundation boasts that it has analyzed every single bill that became law or was vetoed by the governor during a given legislative session.

"Sadly, only 54 members of the House and Senate voted, on balance, to 'expand Liberty' in 2005, while 199 legislators and Gov. Rendell voted, on balance, to 'contract Liberty,'" Brouillette said. "It was not a good year for Liberty last year."

How did Gov. Rendell do on his report card? An F minus. Not just an F, mind you. But an F minus. In other words, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and longtime Hillary Clinton confidant, has worked hard to sabotage Pennsylvania's economic future. (Rendell also earned an F minus in the initial report card for the 2003-2004 Legislative session.)

Coming on the heals of another analysis of Rendell's economic policies by the Washington, D.C.-based Cato Institute, which gave Rendell an F, you have to wonder how much longer Pennsylvania can survive with Rendell at the helm. The Cato study graded all 50 governors in the United States. Rendell was one of only four governors to earn an F.

Rendell's tax-and-spend policies are the basic reason for his "F minus" rating from the Commonwealth Foundation, which believes in limited government interference.

Rendell, on the other hand, believes government exists to plunder as much income from working Pennsylvanians as possible.

In his first year in office, Rendell pushed for a $1 billion increase in the state income tax. He followed that up with a deal to bring 61,000 slot machines to Pennsylvania, which many see as a hidden tax. Instead of giving the money directly to the government, you lose your money in a slot machine and then the government takes its cut. Rendell also increased state inspection and emissions testing fees and pushed through a $52 emergency services tax on workers that replaced that $10 occupational privilege tax most communities collected each year.

Rendell also lobbied and signed into law a 16 to 54 percent pay raise for himself, the Legislature, state judges and hundreds of other state officials in July 2005. The infamous pay raise was eventually repealed after Pennsylvania voters staged a revolt. Under Rendell, the cost of state government has ballooned to $25.4 billion a year. State spending has risen at twice the rate of inflation under Rendell.

The Commonwealth Foundation report card should give Pennsylvania voters something to think about as they prepare to decide if they can survive four more years of Rendell's "tax-and-spend-and borrow" policies.

"It is critical that the citizens of Pennsylvania understand what is happening to their Liberty in Harrisburg," Brouillette said. "But it is even more important that our lawmakers start making Liberty their highest political end rather than a mere legislative afterthought."

The executive summary, with the rankings and grades of the General Assembly and Gov. Rendell, can be downloaded in PDF format at www.commonwealtfoundation.org.

Rendell is not alone at the back of the class. Many other well-known politicians, including most of the Democratic House and Senate leadership, Robert Mellow, Mike Veon, Mike O’Pake, Vince Fumo and Bill DeWeese, earned failing grades in the latest "Liberty Index."

While the majority of the lawmakers who received failing grades are Democrats, there are 56 Republicans who earned F's, according to the Foundation.

The GOP list of failures includes Senate Pro Tempore Robert Jubilirer, David "Chip" Brightbill, the Senate Majority Leader, and John Perzel, the speaker of the state House of Representatives and arguably the most powerful politician in Pennsylvania.

With the comedy team of Rendell and Perzel running the state, Pennsylvania taxpayers have no hope of seeing meaningful tax relief in 2006 or beyond. Unless the voters decide it's time to boot Rendell, Perzel and the other 200 legislators who earned "F" grades on the job.

A wise man once said citizens get the government they deserve. Rendell, the entire state House and half of the state Senate are up for re-election in 2006. The primary election is May 16. The general election is Nov. 7. That's when voters can correct their mistakes.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at tphyrillas@pottsmerc.com

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