Regrets? Governor Rendell has a few. Well – one big one. Reviewing his tenure with Harrisburg reporters, Rendell said his biggest mistake was signing the 2005 “midnight pay raise” into law. “I knew that it would cause trouble. And I was too easily persuaded to do it, because I was told that unless I did it, we wouldn’t get legislative cooperation for the remaining time in office as governor,” he said.
When reporters pointed out that when Rendell signed the bill, he said legislators deserved a pay hike, the governor responded, “A pay raise might have been merited. The pay raise, and the way it was structured, was untenable.”
"They are not term-limited and view their positions as careers…They therefore have a reasonable right to expect periodic raises, which they deserve," Rendell said in a statement on the day he signed the law. About a month later, Rendell insisted he hadn’t given a second thought to signing the pay raise. “Absolutely not,” he said, according to a transcript. “Again, every other piece of legislation that I get isn’t perfect and there are things that, you balance things and I think the pluses in this balance the drawbacks. And I also think the Legislature does work a lot harder than anybody gives them credit for. If you look at what we accomplished in the last two-and-a-half years, and again, everyone’s loathe to print this, but we have done tremendous things in terms of probably the most aggressive and complex economic stimulus program of any state in the union.”
Rendell said his proudest accomplishment is boosting state funding for education, and growing Pennsylvania’s early childhood education efforts. “Clearly if you look at the track we’re on with our economy – our economy becoming more global. Our economy becoming more technology-driven. Everywhere, and every aspect of our economy is technology-driven now. What we have done is going to endure to the benefit of millions of young people as they go into the job market.” Aside from education, Rendell said he hopes people remember him for pushing a progressive agenda.
Rendell was asked whether he was worried his legacy would instead boil down to legalizing gambling. “When you’re in the ground you’re in the ground. …I don’t give a hoot what people say about me. I know what I’ve done,” he said. Rendell defended casinos as a net positive, saying they’ve lowered property taxes and reenergized Pennsylvania’s horse racing industry, among other things.
And how will state workers remember him? “They will remember the budget deadlocks where they weren’t paid. What they should remember most? They should compare me to what’s coming,” Rendell said.