HARRISBURG - It was classic, free-talking Ed Rendell.
The governor said he hoped a conference committee of legislator leaders would get back to work this week crafting a final budget bill. Then he quipped that panel members have been so ineffective that he has fantasized about their untimely demise, 007-style.
All in the course of one news conference yesterday in the children's reading section of a Harrisburg-area library.
The six-member conference committee is charged with striking a final budget plan, which would go to each chamber for an up-or-down vote. It has met twice so far, the last time July 30. It took a week off for the House to consider a stopgap budget bill, which has allowed the state to pay its workers.
Then, its meeting scheduled for Aug. 6 was postponed because of a death in the family of Rep. Dwight Evans, the House Appropriations Committee chairman and a conference committee member. The wife of Evans' brother unexpectedly died last week and the Philadelphia Democrat has been in Georgia since then helping make funeral and other arrangements.
Rendell said yesterday that he hoped that the conference committee could get back to work as early as tomorrow if Evans returned to the state or if a new committee member was appointed to replace him temporarily.
Johnna Pro, Evans' press secretary, said it was unclear when Evans would return. But she added that if legislative leaders requested someone else for the committee, he would step down.
"Dwight is not going to stand in the way of getting the budget done for 12 million Pennsylvanians," Pro said.
Erik Arneson, a spokesman for conference committee member Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware), said it was difficult to say whether having Evans in Harrisburg over the last week would have moved the state closer to a budget handshake. But he added that "in terms of getting the budget done, meetings need to happen."
Rendell said yesterday that once the committee got back to meeting, they should hold daily sessions to solve the budget impasse that is now in its second month.
He also told reporters that he was frustrated with the way the conference committee had conducted its first meetings. They were held in public with Democrats and Republicans spending most of the time bickering about procedure and making little if any progress toward a handshake.
Rendell said it all reminded him of a scene from the 1960s James Bond classic Goldfinger, in which the villain kills a room of gangsters in one fell swoop.
"He just filled the room with poison gas and knocked them all off," Rendell said with a snap of his fingers. "You might have thought after watching those two [conference-committee] days that that would have been a good idea."
Not everyone found the comment - which could not help the already tense budget talks - funny.
"No one has ever said that the governor's sense of humor is one of his strong suits," said Arneson.
Added Steve Miskin, spokesman for conference committee member House Minority Leader Sam Smith (R., Jefferson): "There's no comment to make. He's obviously losing it."