Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Rendell legacy in 4 words

I scrutinized the 1,400-word speech Gov. Ed Rendell gave Tuesday at his inauguration and found only two passing references to "property tax relief."

What do Pennsylvania residents want most? Property tax relief.

When do they want it? Now.

How much of a cut in property taxes has Rendell delivered in his first four years in office? Zero.

What can we expect from Rendell over the next four years? See above.

The first mention of property tax relief came early in the speech when Rendell spoke of a "Commonwealth in crisis" before he took the reins as governor. Rendell said he inherited a Pennsylvania that had "a property tax system that threatened the ability of working citizens and especially the elderly to keep their homes."

Rendell claimed in the speech that he "enacted the most far-reaching property tax reduction in the state's history."

Did anyone see Rendell's nose start to grow as he uttered those words? Is this guy living in the same state as the rest of us? How many Pennsylvania residents have lost their homes in the past four years when property taxes rose by $2 billion under Rendell’s watch?

The only thing Rendell has done over the past four years is come up with various schemes to shift the tax burden. It's a classic shell game. We went from Act 72 to Act 1 and borrowed money from the state lottery fund in between to give rebates to a few senior citizens.

That's what Rendell is calling "the most far-reaching property tax reduction in the state's history?"

Somebody should have given Rendell a Golden Globe award for his impersonation of a governor. Sacha Baron Cohen's "Borat" was more convincing in his role as a Kazakh journalist than Rendell has been in pretending to have accomplished something during his first term in the Governor's Mansion.

The speech got worse. At one point, Rendell actually said: "Fellow citizens, Pennsylvania is poised for greatness."

This is a state that is about to go belly up because of (pick one) a $3 billion shortfall in pension obligations; a $1.7 billion toll in needed transportation upgrades; billions in welfare spending; a $2.1 billion blank check to unionized state workers; a Legislature that has rubber-stamped massive new spending under Rendell.

And what is Rendell planning for his second term? More government spending programs. (And although he didn't say this during the speech, higher taxes to pay for his spending).

"To accomplish this vision, in the next 30 days, I will set forth an Agenda for Pennsylvania Progress that calls for major new strategic investments in education, in alternative energy development, in transportation and in growing our economy," Rendell proclaimed.

Rendell will begin the state's death march toward insolvency on Wednesday by announcing a massive new government-sponsored health care plan. Can you say, Hillarycare?

Dr. Rendell will unveil his "Prescription for Pennsylvania," whereby he will magically offer health insurance to 1 million Pennsylvania residents and "eliminate billions in wasted health care dollars." Afterwards, Dr. Rendell will offer his cure for the common cold.

If you think Rendell is going to solve the state's health care crisis, you must be the same person checking your mailbox every day waiting for that property tax rebate Rendell promised.

The rest of the speech was about everyone's favorite new buzzword, "reform." Never mind that Rendell has been one of the biggest obstacles to good government over the past four years, making back-room deals with Legislators on both sides of the political aisle and appointing political cronies to various state offices. It's hard to feel safe when the fox is promising to guard the chicken coop.

When a man who amassed $32 million in campaign contributions last year from lobbyists, lawyers and big business tells you, "We need controls on campaign contributions to level the playing field," grab your wallet and run away as fast as you can.

When the man who helped orchestrate the July 2005 payjacking tells you, "We need laws and rules that guarantee that all bills or amendments are carefully considered by those who cast the votes and by citizens who have the right to express their opinion before legislative action is taken," lock the door and pull down the shades. Whatever he’s selling, you don't need.

Rendell also suggested, "We should amend the constitution to take politics out of the defining of legislative districts and leave it solely in the hands of the citizens. We should establish a bipartisan commission to study and recommend the appropriate size for a smaller legislature. And finally, I believe we should amend our constitution to establish term limits for every state office."

All this talk of cleaning up the way the people's business is conducted in Harrisburg from the man who cooked up the plan to install a Philadelphia Republican the new Speaker of the House so Rendell could control the flow of legislation in the House.

Rendell could have kept his speech much shorter Tuesday. Instead of 1,400 words, he only need four to sum up his tenure as governor: Empty promises. Hollow words.

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