When it comes to politics, I should always listen to my mother. Mom warned me about liberals. Vote for a Democrat and they'll raise your taxes, Mom said. She was right.
Ed Rendell appeared to many people to have been the better candidate for governor of Pennsylvania in 2002. His opponent, Attorney General Mike Fisher, couldn’t articulate why he wanted to be governor other than he had no other elected office to shoot for at the state level.
On the other hand, Rendell did a decent job of turning Philadelphia around. And as head of the Democratic National Committee, Rendell presumably had contacts in Washington that could help the state.
Two years into his term as governor, it’s obvious that Fast Eddie is out of his league in Harrisburg. Twisting arms on Philadelphia City Council and schmoozing local union leaders is one thing. But trying to get anything done in Republican-controlled Harrisburg is a different story. And the fact that Republicans also hold the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives isn’t going to get Rendell too many invitations in Washington, D.C.
The Pennsylvania State Legislature is the largest in the country and one of the highest paid, but it is also the most mediocre legislature this side of the old Soviet Soviet Politburo. The state legislature is an elephant’s graveyard where career politicians go to die after they’ve scorched the economic landscape of Pennsylvania. Can you name the last good law to come out of Harrisburg? And don't even say the slots bill.
To his credit, Rendell went to Harrisburg with the belief that he could wheel-and-deal with the entrenched Republican majorities in both houses and get things done. Two years later, reality has set in. And for Ed Rendell, reality bites. It’s no wonder the governor races to Philadelphia every weekend to offer his "expert" analysis on the latest Eagles victory. It’s the only time anybody listens to him.
Let’s take a quick look at Rendell’s very short list of accomplishments during the first half of his four-year term. No. 1 on the list is the legalization of slot-machine gambling. One of these days, at 14 locations across the state, about 61,000 one-armed bandits will be ready to relieve you of more of your hard-earned cash. If the state brings in $1 billion in revenue three or four years down the road, you may get a check for a few hundred dollars.
That is Rendell’s "solution" to the choking property tax burden on state residents. Care to bet that by the time Rendell’s tax relief check is in the mail, your property taxes will probably have risen by another $1,000. In other words, don’t quit your day job. The slots bill is the biggest scam ever perpetrated on the citizens of Pennsylvania.
Sticking to the tried-and-true liberal playbook of big government funded by higher taxes, Rendell’s other big "achievement" during the past two years has been to increase taxes by more than $1 billion. That included the first increase in the state income tax in 13 years. Rendell wanted a 30-percent increase in the income tax, but settled for a 10-percent hike to balance his budget.
And if that first paycheck of the new year was a little lighter, you have Fast Eddie to thank for pushing through legislation allowing municipalities across the state to increase occupational privilege taxes from $10 to $52. There's also a host of "hidden taxes" that Rendell managed to sneak through, like increased fees for emissions stickers, tires and personal driving records. That added another $110 million in hidden taxes to state coffers since Rendell took office.
Instead of taking a cue from George W. Bush and cutting taxes and regulations to stimulate the economy, Rendell did the opposite. As a result, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average. Job creation? Rendell spent most of 2004 echoing John Kerry’s line that it was George Bush’s fault that jobs were being lost. Now that the election is over and Kerry is history, Rendell has no explanation for his dismal failure to bring back good-paying manufacturing jobs to Pennsylvania residents.
I was planning to give Rendell a C-minus for his first two years, but that implies doing an average job. In other words, not doing any harm. But Rendell has done enormous harm to the state since taking office. Pennsylvania lags behind other states in so many areas. And Rendell always seems preoccupied. If it’s not the Eagles, it’s national politics. It’s obvious he’s using the governorship as a stepping stone to something better. A Hillary Clinton-Ed Rendell ticket for 2008?
Rendell even held a press conference in December to say that he plans to seek reelection in two years and complete a second term as governor. Politicians say a lot of things. I guarantee you that Fast Eddie would be house-hunting in suburban Washington, D.C., had his friend, John Kerry, won the election. Rendell gets no better than a D on his mid-term report card.
He simply hasn’t delivered. But he has two more years to learn from his mistakes and do some good for Pennsylvania — before Hillary calls.
E-mail Tony Phyrillas at firstname.lastname@example.org