Monday, July 23, 2007

Legislature leaves work undone

Gov. Ed Rendell and members of the Pennsylvania Legislature pulled a few muscles patting themselves on the back after the recent budget agreement was reached. The Legislature is now on its traditional 10-week summer vacation, but Pennsylvania lawmakers left plenty of important work undone. At the top of the list is property tax relief, a promise legislators have failed to keep for 30 years (not to mention the five years of empty rhetoric by Rendell.) If you don't read The Mercury, you missed a terrific editorial on another disappointing session by the most expensive legislature in the United States. Here's today's editorial in its entirety. — Tony

Legislature leaves for summer with work half finished

Anyone sighing with relief as Pennsylvania legislators last week approved a budget —16 days late — should catch their breath.

The final budget left a lot to be desired.

First and of course most important to residents of this area, the folks in Harrisburg left for the summer without addressing the critical need for property tax reform.

Not that we expected anything, but the failure again this year to deal with the most pressing issue facing Pennsylvanians cannot go by unnoticed.

This year was the year of reform, legislators like to remind constituents, but what does it matter if the business being conducted more openly still fails to include the tough job, like reforming the system of funding public schools?

Besides a promise from state Rep. Sam Rohrer, R-128th, to introduce a new version of the Commonwealth Caucus plan, there wasn’t even a mention of property tax reform in the final weeks of the session.

The budget that was adopted also fails to include money for hazardous sites cleanup, an issue that will have a detrimental impact on just about every town or township in this once-industrial region.

Thanks to a tough bipartisan stand by area representatives, the Senate attempt to raid parks and libraries grants failed. But when the House saved one part of the flawed plan, it fell short on the other part.

State Rep. Kate Harper, R-61st Dist., said the coalition succeeded in stopping the raid on Keystone grants. But, she added, "the bad news is there is no money in the general fund for HSCA, even though we have $225 million in an unappropriated surplus and $80 million in tax credits for filmmaking in Pennsylvania."

HSCA is the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act which the Senate had proposed to fund by shifting money from the Keystone grants program.

"We can subsidize filmmakers, but we can’t find the money to clean up pollution in our own back yards," Harper said.

In addition to the $75 million Film Tax Credit lawmakers inserted into the budget at the request of Gov. Ed Rendell, the 2007-08 budget contains hundreds of millions of dollars in pork spending disguised as "Walking Around Money" or WAMs, which the governor and legislative leaders can spend as they wish.

The WAM funds are hidden under budget items such as "opportunity grant program," "customized job training," "community conservation and employment" and "community action team."

The total for all WAMs is more than $250 million.

Other questionable spending, outlined in H.B. 1631, includes $1.5 billion in economic development funds to build a new hockey arena for the Pittsburgh Penguins and expand the Philadelphia Convention Center.

Meanwhile, this is a budget without a penny set aside to deal with TCE contamination in more than 100 wells in Upper Pottsgrove or to clean up air or groundwater pollution in Bally, Douglassville, or Lower Providence.

Are making movies and building convention centers the most pressing needs in the state right now?

Ask Pennsylvania taxpayers if they'd like to have the $1.5 billion back as tax cuts or if they want it spent to subsidize corporate projects.

Ask voters if they want to applaud the Legislature for a job that only got half the work done.

Like 2006 and 2005, summer comes and goes with the same refrain: Better luck next year.

Copyright 2007, The Mercury

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