Deficit or no deficit?
That's the election year debate ensuing between Gov. Corbett and his predecessor, Ed Rendell, who on Thursday took issue with the state of the state's bank account when he left office in early 2011.
Rendell said he left the government kitty with an extra $1 billion and he produced Corbett's own budget documents to prove it.
But Corbett officials say they inherited a $4.2 billion deficit. In the words of budget secretary Charles Zogby, the Rendell administration not only left the cupboards bare, they "took the cupboards with them."
Corbett spokesman Jay Pagni said Thursday the deficit was real and accused Rendell of engaging in "revisionist history."
Pagni produced his own documents: links to news stories published at the end of the Rendell administration referencing the $4 billion deficit awaiting Corbett.
But Rendell said it was efforts he made as he left office that left the incoming governor with a surplus.
"So the cupboard was certainly not bare and we certainly didn't leave them a $4.2 billion deficit," Rendell said. He went on to say it was Corbett's decisions to slash education funding, cut business taxes and not impose a tax on Marcellus Shale gas that had negative consequences.
Both sides agree on this much: Pennsylvania lost nearly $3 billion as federal stimulus funds ran out. Corbett's first budget contained deep cuts to education, while businesses received generous tax breaks.
Rendell said the issue should be about Corbett's accounting, not a Corbett versus Rendell battle.
"The governor made decisions based on philosophy, but he shouldn't try to mislead the people of Pennsylvania," he said.
Rendell's budget secretary Mary Soderberg was projecting a budget deficit in December 2010, the middle of the fiscal year. But Rendell and a top House Democratic budget analyst said measures taken by Rendell staved it off.
"Rendell put in placea plan to generate funds to address the problem looking into the next year," said Miriam Fox, executive director of the Democratic House Appropriations Committee in an interview Thursday.
Fox said he froze spending, set aside $388 in federal education funds and asked Senate Republicans to put in place bridge funding to address the gap left by the fiscal stimulus. The transition reserve fund would have been worth $1.8 billion, but the Senate Republicans refused to move on issue, she said.
Rendell said he felt compelled to speak out now, on a conference call hosted by the state Democratic Party, because Corbett is repeating the deficit claim in his campaign ads.
Of course, a deficit debate between incoming and outgoing governors of opposing parties is not new. When Rendell took office in 2003 he produced an austerity budget his first year, saying he had no choice: he had inherited a $2 billion deficit from Gov. Schweiker.
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