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Budget impasse sinks Harrisburg approval rating

HARRISBURG - The state budget impasse has dragged the approval ratings of Gov. Rendell and the legislature to dismal depths, according to a statewide poll released yesterday.

HARRISBURG - The state budget impasse has dragged the approval ratings of Gov. Rendell and the legislature to dismal depths, according to a statewide poll released yesterday.

Fewer than three out of 10 Pennsylvanians polled believe the Democratic governor is doing an excellent or good job, the lowest marks for Rendell since he took office in 2003, according to the survey conducted by Franklin and Marshall College.

The legislature fared even worse.

Only 18 percent of respondents said lawmakers were doing a good job, fewer even than after the legislative pay-raise debacle of 2005. Not one of the 643 Pennsylvanians surveyed graded the legislature's job performance "excellent."

"That is virtually unheard of," said G. Terry Madonna, the poll's director and a pollster for 17 years. "It's an absolutely stunning result. I don't think I have ever seen a zero before."

Most of those surveyed - 54 percent - blamed the budget stalemate on the 253-member General Assembly; 31 percent said Rendell was the cause.

Asked whether he was taken aback by the overall approval numbers, Rendell quipped to reporters, "I am surprised it is that high."

Rendell, who has less than a year and a half left in his second and final term, said he was not concerned about his own ratings. He said it didn't matter whether they dropped even more as a result of the budget standoff, in which he insists on increased spending for education and other programs.

"I believe in my heart and in my mind and in my soul that I am doing the right thing," he said, "and I will stick with it whether my popularity falls below 10 percent."

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson), who has been among the leading voices in the budget debate against Democratic efforts to raise taxes, said he understood the public's sour view of Harrisburg at the moment.

"People are fed up," he said. "They should be fed up with us. And they should be fed up with the governor. I am fed up."

The telephone survey, which had a margin of error of about 4 percentage points, was conducted Aug. 25 to 31 as the state was ending its second month without a new budget.

The poll also found that U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter holds a lead of 37 percent to 11 percent over his Democratic primary challenger, U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak.

Specter also leads Republican Pat Toomey, a former congressman, 37 percent to 29 percent in a potential 2010 general election face-off.

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