Rendell rips 'three caucus' budget plan

"I do believe we can work this out. We're very close on a spend number," Gov. Rendell said today at a press conference in the Capitol. He will meet with legislative leaders at the Governor's Residence tomorrow night. (Associated Press/File Photo)

Gov. Rendell today ripped a legislative budget proposal for being woefully short on revenue predictions and short-changing students and business development.

"It doesn't add up," said Rendell, who promised a swift veto if the bill presented Friday hits his desk. "It would be a disastrous budget for the citizens of the Commonwealth because of the damage to education and economic development."

But Rendell - at a press conference in the Capitol today, said he wants to give negotiations one last try and scheduled a meeting with legislative leaders at the Governor's Residence tomorrow night.

"I do believe we can work this out," he said. "We're very close on a spend number."

Senate leaders along with House Democrats unveiled a $27.9 billion budget proposal on Friday, that increases some limited taxes, such as an additional 25 cents a pack on cigarettes, and authorizes table games to cover a $3.2 billion deficit. The members of the bicameral conference committee are scheduled to vote on the plan Monday.

Rendell criticized the proposal for playing a shell game with education funds, adding the $300 million he sought but cutting $147 million from programs elsewhere in the education budget, such as accountability block grants that pay for pre-k and tutoring and allow smaller class sizes.

He said the additional $74 million in cuts made in the Department of Community and Economic Development budget would jeopardize the state's chances for keeping Harley Davidson plant, which employs 2,600 people, in York. The company has threatened to relocate its motorcycle plant to another state and Rendell is trying to put together a package of incentives to keep it in Pennsylvania.

He went on to criticize virtually all the revenue projections, including leasing more state land for natural gas drilling and instituting tax amnesty, for being far short of his and others' estimates and said it would lead to a $1 billion deficit next year.

Rendell called "ludicrous" the $100 million first-year estimate on increased limits on small games of chance and a tax on the games. He said his figure is closer to $4 million.

The only revenue source estimate he viewed as accurate was the $200 million expected to come from the authorizing of table games because the casino license fees would come in the form of up-front payments.

Rendell also disputed the proposal's growth projection of .81 percent, saying his budget office is projecting zero growth next year.

"We had to make tax increases that were painful and debilitating service cuts," said Rendell. "If you think that's bad, wait till next year."

A spokesman for Senate Republicans contends the revenue projections in the plan are on target and accused Rendell of holding out for additional taxes.

"We are confident in the accuracy of the revenue projections made by the three caucuses involved in this bipartisan agreement," said spokesman Erik Arneson. "No one has more reason to be concerned about the accuracy of those numbers than the legislature – all of the House and half of the Senate are up for election next year. The governor is alone in thinking that more taxes are needed to support this spending plan."

Rendell said if the legislature overrides his veto it would be fiscally irresponsible and politically dangerous. He said he believes the result will be a tax increase in an election year.

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