In Harrisburg, both Republicans and Democrats are acting surprised that Gov. Rendell, a Democrat dependent on a degree of labor support, is demanding givebacks from state workers and threatening mass firings, says GOP political consultant Joe Carduff.

"People forget that Rendell successfully dealt with unions in the past, to the advantage of the City of Philadelphia and the taxpayers of Philadelphia. He sees an opportunity to do the same thing here," said Carduff. He blames "the lack of institutional memory in this town" for upstate shock at the spectacle.

In their book Revolution at the Roots, conservative writers William Eggers and John O'Leary said Rendell saw the city's 1992 fiscal meltdown as an opportunity:  "Rendell used the crisis to take on a host of sacred cows. He took an approach considered suicide for an urban Democrat -- he took on the city's police, fire and municipal unions.

"Rendell took his case to the people," and told them "city workers enjoyed better pay, holidays, and benefits than the private sector -- not to mention job security. Rendell annoyed the unions immensely... He proposed changing work rules and scaling down compensation. In response, the unions struck. The walkout lasted just 16 hours... The walkout had zero public support. Rendell wrested $353 million in wage concessions."

David L. Cohen (then Rendell's chief of staff, now a top executive of Comcast, president of the Chamber of Commerce, chairman-elect of Penn's trustees) called the fiscal crisis an opportunity "to bring fundamental change" against "vested interests." Joseph Torsella (deputy mayor turned Constitution Center chief and potential U.S. Senate candidate) went further, calling the crisis and resulting cost cuts "one of the best things that happened to Philadelphia."