Thursday, August 19, 2010
Governor Rendell began the summer by warning of a budget “Armageddon,” with up to 20,000 state employee layoffs. He gathered reporters yesterday to say he has whitled than number down to about 100. In order to get to that number Rendell has trimmed an additional 1.9% from state department budgets and he is counting on the state legislature passing a Marcellus Shale gas extraction tax. Some lawmakers do not want to create such a tax at all and others are looking to hold off until a new governor takes office in January. Rendell says he thinks he can get his version through the legislature, “This assumes that there’ll be a significant 40, 50 percent share going to the locals. And yes, if it will assuage their consciences, that’s less money we would have had to cut from the environmental budget.” Rendell says he was also helped by an unusual amount of employee retirements, as well as a hiring freeze. Rendell says he’s keeping a $200 million education increase in place, and is ignoring Senate Republicans’ suggestion to shift the money to the state’s pension fund. “Rather than cut education, and I don’t mean to be cavalier about this, but there is easily $200 million in legislative balances,” says Rendell, “If the legislature cares about the pension fund they can use that $200 million, rather than education funding, to buttress the education fund.” In the past, House and Senate leaders have been hesitant to use those funds contending that it is their hedge against a governor who is unwilling to spend on high priority issues.