The LuLac Edition #1442, Jan. 19th, 2011
PHOTO INDEX: OUR "WRITE ON WEDNESDAY" LOGO.
WRITE ON WEDNESDAY
The Harrisburg Patriot recently did an editorial on the tenure of Governor Ed Rendell. Here is what they said:
Gov. Ed Rendell prepares to leave office Tuesday after eight years leading the commonwealth.
His tenure has been challenging, sometimes tumultuous and always entertaining. Upon his inauguration in 2003, a Patriot-News editorial suggested that “the rash enthusiasm that has taken Gov. Rendell this far will be tested in the weeks and months ahead.”
Was it ever.
Rendell’s contentious first budget was finalized six months late — the last in the nation. The $21.4 billion spending plan included $1 billion in new revenue and a 10 percent hike in the state income tax.
It was a sign of things to come. Rendell’s approach was often to spend more money or, as he put it, to “invest more” in the state’s future. Last year’s budget was $28 billion.
Yet Rendell also saved $1.75 billion by streamlining government administration, and he certainly got a lot for his money — or rather, for our money.
Eight years later, 290,000 more Pennsylvania students are performing at grade level. In eighth-grade reading, our scores are best in the nation while nearly two-thirds of the state’s schoolchildren attend full-day kindergarten.
Thanks to aggressive job training and economic development (and recently federal stimulus money), the state’s unemployment rate has consistently been below the national average.
We rank third in the nation for green energy jobs and second in the nation for solar industry jobs. That’s right, old “Rust Belt” Pennsylvania.
Rendell helped the state’s seniors, eliminating property taxes completely for 120,000 and cutting school taxes in half for another 108,000.
And he helped to preserve the state’s magnificent natural heritage, protecting 385,000 additional acres of farmland and parkland.
As staff writer Jan Murphy pointed out last Sunday, Rendell also affected our lives in more personal ways.
He brought casinos to the state and cleared the smoke from restaurants and public workplaces. We can now buy beer and wine on Sundays or ride a motorcycle without a helmet.
Rendell raised the minimum wage for the first time in a decade.
The governor is proud of all these accomplishments and rightly so. But he also struggled and left crucial work un done.
As mayor of Philadelphia, Rendell used his persuasive powers and his legendary enthusiasm to transform a city. In Harrisburg, some of those very advantages became disadvantages.
At times the governor would push an agenda that had little chance of success — such as consolidating school districts, leasing the turnpike or expanding the sales tax.
Because he felt strongly about issues, he would sometimes pursue brinkmanship rather than negotiation with GOP leaders.
It was no accident that every state budget was passed late, with the 2009 budget once again last in the nation.
Pennsylvania is still the only state that does not tax natural gas drilling.
The Republican-controlled Senate was ready to pass some sort of tax last year, but a deal could not be struck. Now, Tom Corbett takes office and the gas industry might well get a tax-free ride.
Rendell’s larger-than-life personality put Pennsylvania on the national map. He was a fixture on CNN and a force in the 2008 presidential election.
He was even the model for a character on the TV series “The West Wing.”
Yet, for all his charisma and occasional bluster, Rendell remained, above all, an average Joe.
He was often seen around Harrisburg in local restaurants and at events. It was no accident that he had a burger named after him at The Spot. Or that, after every Philadelphia Eagles game, “the guv” would mix it up on Comcast SportsNet.
When Cabinet secretaries or candidates visit The Patriot-News Editorial Board, they often walk in with a retinue of several aides who will rustle up position papers at a nod. Rendell typically traveled with no one but a state trooper and could easily talk facts and figures without referring to notes or aides.
Rendell leaves huge challenges for Tom Corbett, including a potential $5 billion budget deficit.
States nationwide are facing red ink, but our own deficit would be considerably smaller if spending had not increased so sharply on Rendell’s watch.
This newspaper has disagreed strongly with the governor many times. His letters and op-eds in response were sometimes equally sharp.
But, in the end, here was the great thing about Edward G. Rendell:
He said what he meant. He meant what he said. And in large part he did what he said he would do.
And that is a rare thing indeed.