Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell decided to play a high-stakes game of poker with the Republican-controlled state Senate over the 2007-08 state budget.
Rendell bet all his chips, including the jobs of 25,000 state employees, on one winning hand, but the Senate called his bluff.
The result? Rendell folded. He was forced to carry out his threat to furlough state workers.
Some 25,000 state employees are sitting home today because Rendell and Republican-controlled Senate can't agree on a state budget nine days into the start of the new fiscal year. (Forget about the state House, where the new Democratic majority turned out to be a doormat for Rendell.)
Without the authority to spend money that a signed budget provides, Rendell suspended nonessential services and furloughed employees.
"It doesn't have to be this way," said Rep. Curt Schroder of Chester County. "The governor is using state employees and government services as pawns in an attempt to garner support for tax, fee and spending increases that fall outside the General Fund budget. It is absurd that the governor is using the livelihood of state workers to leverage support for unpopular proposals."
In a hastily assembled press conference just before midnight Sunday, Rendell admitted he is partly to blame for the budget mess. "We didn't start early enough," Rendell said as he ordered the furloughs. "I think everybody was at fault."
This is big news. Rendell actually is willing to accept part of the blame for creating the budget crisis. Rendell is slow to admit mistakes and has been given the title of "Teflon Ed" for his abilit to avoid taking responsibility.
Rendell signed the pay raise of 2005, but the voters gave him a free pass to re-election in 2006. Rendell was watching a basketball game while thousands of motorists where stranded on Interstate 78, but Rendell skated away from that fiasco without long-term political damage. Rendell has repeatedly lied about property tax relief, but Pennsylvania residents still give him the benefit of the doubt.
It's going to be hard for Rendell to escape unscathed from the government shutdown, which could have been avoided had Rendell and his Democratic puppets in the state House been willing to put Pennsylvania residents ahead of their own political agenda.
State parks, many including public pools, are shut down on the hottest day of the year. Hundreds of Pennsylvania residents, plus out-of-state visitors, were forced to leave their campsites Sunday, ruining family vacations. Pennsylvania residents can't get driver's licenses or visit museums. And you have 25,000 state workers sitting home thanks to the governor's stubbornness.
Rendell proposed spending $27.3 billion for the fiscal year beginning July 1, but he also wanted to enact new taxes or raise current taxes on seven different items. The GOP-controlled Senate was willing to approve a $27 billion budget, but with no tax increases or new taxes.
Rendell then threatened to veto the budget unless the Legislature rubber-stamps his plan to borrow $850 million for wind energy and come up with nearly $1 billion to bail out mass transit.
Republicans have said all along that furloughs weren't necessary, even without an approved budget.
"The energy policy should not be holding these people hostage," said Rep. Bill Adolph of Delaware County. "We have a $650 million surplus. There is no budget crisis."
House Republicans attempted Sunday to avert the furloughs by proposing a bill that would have provided budget funding for a month and kept state facilities running and workers on the job. Democrats walked off the floor of the House chamber instead of allowing a vote on the bill. Once again, Democrats showed their true colors. They turned their backs on Pennsylvania residents and state workers.
"Our efforts were shut down by House Democrats who were more concerned with currying favor with the governor then the plight of Pennsylvania residents," Rep. Schroder said.
A lot of Pennsylvania residents also can't understand how the governor and lawmakers got into this mess because the state finished the 2006-07 fiscal year with a substantial surplus. It's not like the state is hurting for money. The problem is gluttonous politicians who want to spend beyond their means.
"We have a $650 million surplus in Pennsylvania," said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware. "There's absolutely no reason why we can't have a budget agreement."
Rendell doesn't have the votes to get the Legislature to approve his electricity tax on homeowners because Republicans won't break their "No New Taxes" pledge.
So Rendell decided to hold the entire budget (and 25,000 state workers) hostage to get his way.
"I can't believe that a man who would call himself governor would do this to state employees," said Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson.
Yes, Sen. Scarnati, you can believe it. Rendell only cares about Rendell. He's a spoiled child who is used to getting his way. He's been able to get his way on tax increases, massive borrowing and state spending and bringing casinos to Pennsylvania.
I applaud Republicans in the House and the Senate for finally standing up to Gov. Rendell. It's time for the people of Pennsylvania to come first. No new taxes, no more borrowing, no more handouts for corrupt mass transit agencies.
Rendell needs to get the message that the well has run dry. Pennsylvania can't afford the government it has now.