Rendell’s transportation problem

The Allentown Morning Call’s John Micek posted a great analysis  of the politics of transportation funding on Sunday. He writes:

Here’s The Problem Facing Governor Rendell when it comes to finding new state money for roads and bridges.

On the same day that the Democratic governor’s barnstorming bus tour rolled into Ellwood City on the Ohio border Friday, a lawmaker from another part of rural western Pennsylvania was holding a golf outing for supporters who paid as much as $2,000 each for the privilege of supporting his re-election campaign and spending a few hours on the links under a blazing August sun.

In other words, Rendell, a lame-duck who leaves office in January, is looking to his legacy.

But the 253-members of the General Assembly who face voters in November are simply looking for another term.

And that means they’re unlikely to do anything to screw it up — like casting a vote in favor of the tax and vehicle fee hikes that the governor says are necessary to close a $450 million hole this year and to provide a stable funding source for a roughly $1 billion backlog of road and bridge repairs.

“They’re not voting for taxes,” said Terry Madonna, a political science professor and pollster at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster. “They’d be loath to vote for taxes in a non-election year.” …

Rendell will be talking transportation at 9 AM on this morning’s WITF Radio Smart Talk.


Rendell ready to help Yanks

Governor Rendell is preparing to give a major boost to the Yankees.

No – not the New York team that beat his beloved Phillies in the World Series, but their Triple-A affiliate, who play in Lackawanna County. The team’s stadium, PNC Field, needs major renovations, and Rendell says he’s willing to release 20 million dollars in already approved state bond money to help foot the bill.

The 2008 Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) bill provided $35 million for “acquisition, infrastructure improvements, developments and construction of Lackawanna County Baseball Stadium and adjacent property.”

Rendell’s press secretary, Gary Tuma, says the governor has consistently approved state bond money for minor league stadiums, because he believes they’re “economic catalysts.”

Not everyone feels that way.  House Republican Whip Mike Turzai of Allegheny County says he opposes using public money – especially borrowed funds – to pay for stadiums. “It’s suspect. I think it’s wrong,” he said – ironically from Virginia, where his son’s baseball team is playing in the quarterfinals of the Pony League World Series. “I mean look – have they created jobs in our state? No. I mean they haven’t. If you want to prioritize it, pay for it as you go. If that’s what you think it’s an appropriate expenditure, pay for it as you go.”

PNC Field would be the eleventh minor league ballpark to receive RACP money during the Rendell Administration. Others include Harrisburg’s Commerce Bank Park ($18.5 million in 2009), Centre County Baseball Stadium ($12 million in 2004), and a park in the Lehigh Valley, which received a total of $14 million in 2004 and 2006.

I asked Tuma whether the Yankees’ six-game triumph in the 2009 Fall Classic dissuaded Rendell from giving money to their affiliate’s park.

But Turzai says the Yankees connection does add insult to injury.

I’d point out to Turzai the $20 million in question is just a bit less than what Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira will make this year.

Rendell: basic ed increase a likely FMAP victim

Governor Rendell is angry about FMAP. You can hear it in his voice when he defends his June insistence that the General Assembly include the $850 million of extended federal aid in the state budget.

It’s nearly August now, and Congress still hasn’t voted on the bill. Rendell says he’ll begin the process of slashing the money from the spending plan on Monday, when he sits down with legislative leaders in his Harrisburg residence. In Rendell’s mind, the money should have arrived long ago. “Both houses of Congress passed it in separate bills and the president’s for it. Why wouldn’t you assume it was going to get done? And my guess is it’ll still get done, but I can’t wait.”

What killed – or delayed – FMAP? In Rendell’s mind, the culprit is emboldened Republicans who have seized on the ballooning federal deficit as a campaign issue.  “It became such a talking point for the Republicans,” he said during an interview in his Capitol office today. “Because they passed it once, and they didn’t insist it had to be paid for. And now, all of the sudden, it has to be paid for. They just passed an increase in war funding, and strangely that didn’t have to be paid for.”

Rendell says the impending cuts – in the past, he’s warned up to 20,000 workers may lose their job – “make [him] sick.” “It should have been avoided,” he laments. “For them not to be able to get it done shows the partisan gridlock that’s gripping Washington DC.”

Earlier this week, state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said he wanted Rendell to eliminate the budget’s $250 million basic education increase, if the $850 million was being cut out. Rendell concedes the boost he fought so hard for will likely have to go.

Rendell says he recently spoke to  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who told him a vote is still possible in September. “If they do, the people that were laid off will be called back to work,” Rendell says.

More from my interview with Governor Rendell — including his take on the Onorato-Corbett race — tomorrow.

Rendell on “The View”

I just got back from an interview in Governor Rendell’s office. I’ll have more posted soon — including an FMAP update, Rendell’s thoughts on the governor’s race, and the consequences of the General Assembly punting on transportation funding. But for now, know this: Rendell would not do the Comcast Eagles show, if he’s ever elected president.

I followed up on why Rendell criticized President Obama’s decision to go on “The View,” pointing out he appears on cable news shows about once every 20 minutes.

Here’s Rendell’s answer:

Rendell not a fan of “The View”

I guess Governor Rendell won’t be joining Whoopi, Joy and the other ladies of “The View” anytime soon. During a “Morning Joe” interview today, the governor said the hit ABC show is beneath the dignity of the President of the United States.

President Obama appears on the popular ABC show Thursday.

I think there are some shows — I wouldn’t put him on “Jerry Springer,” too, right?” he said, according to TVNewser. “I think the president of the United States has to go on serious shows. And “The View” is, you can make a case that it’s a serious show, but it also rocks and rolls a little bit. I’m not sure he has to go on “The View” to be open to questions.”

Rendell endorses gas tax

Governor Rendell wants lawmakers to find new revenue sources for transportation infrastructure. Among the measures he’d accept: a gas tax, boosted registration fees, and a tax on oil companies.

Pennsylvania faces a nearly $500 million annual hole, due to the Feds’ rejection of I-80 tolling.

One of the options Rendell’s calling for is a 3.25 cent gas tax increase, which the governor says drivers “probably would not even notice.” Senate Republican spokesman Erik Arneson says Rendell is “flat-out wrong.”

Rendell says the gas tax isn’t his preferred funding source, but that he’d sign the bill if it reaches his desk. His top priority is an excise profits tax on oil companies.

The governor is calling for a special session on transportation to re-convene August 23rd. But Arneson says the Senate isn’t returning to Harrisburg until mid-September. The Senate Transportation Committee takes a look at the issue on Wednesday, and Rendell says he’ll testify before the panel. As a bit of extra – cough – incentive to lawmakers, the governor is promising to kindly inform the panel’s senators which of their district transportation projects will lose money, if they don’t come up with a new revenue stream.

Rendell with his Transportation Super Team

Rendell on bond measure, special session

Governor Rendell is defending allocating 20 million dollars to projects named after Senator Arlen Specter and Congressman John Murtha.

Nearly every state department lost funding in this year’s budget, but an accompanying bond measure hands out 300 million dollars for construction projects across the state. That includes 10 million dollars for an Arlen Specter library at Philadelphia University, and a matching amount for a John Murtha Policy Center in Johnstown.

The two line items drew the ire of conservative lawmakers during weekend budget votes, but Rendell defends them.

Rendell points out the borrowed money can’t be used for operating expenses, so the 300 million dollars would not have restored any budget cuts. The borrowing bill was passed by both legislative chambers on Saturday, less than a day after its line items were made public.

Meantime, Rendell is pressuring lawmakers to vote on transportation funding this summer. After passing the budget bills Saturday, both the House and Senate adjourned until September, and Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi has indicated his chamber won’t be back before then.

Rendell says the General Assembly is shirking its responsibilities.

Rendell called a special session earlier this year, to address the funding gap that was created when federal officials rejected Pennsylvania’s application to toll I-80. Lawmakers say they can deal with transportation in September and October.

The fall will be busy – leaders have also vowed to pass a natural gas severance tax, and to create a new legislative fiscal office.