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GOP's Civera sure to stay for next Pa. budget

HARRISBURG - Last week, Rep. Mario Civera, the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, said he was "tying up loose ends" before resigning from his legislative seat to take his new job as a Delaware County Council member.

HARRISBURG - Last week, Rep. Mario Civera, the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, said he was "tying up loose ends" before resigning from his legislative seat to take his new job as a Delaware County Council member.

Now, after a surprising request from Gov. Rendell, Civera said yesterday he was all but certain that he would stay on to complete next year's budget.

He was talking about the one that is required to be approved next summer. And lawmakers have yet to wrap up remaining elements of this year's spending plan, which was adopted Oct. 9, 101 days late.

"I'm 90 percent I'll stay through the budget, unless something unforeseen happens," said Civera, who is scheduled to be sworn as a council member on Jan. 4.

The governor's unusual across-the-aisle solicitation was apparently prompted by a story in Saturday's Inquirer on speculation about when Civera would resign his House seat, which he has held since 1980.

Civera said Rendell called him late Saturday morning and said, 'I want you to stay and get the budget done. We could use you.' "

Rendell spokesman, Barry Ciccocioppo, said yesterday that while the decision to step down was "ultimately up to" Civera, he did not dispute Civera's characterization of the conversation.

Ciccocioppo declined to elaborate on Rendell's conversation with Civera.

Civera's decision, which could mean he would hold two elected seats for months, if not a year, opens a Pandora's box of political issues - not the least of which is whether doing so is legal.

Civera, who served on the Upper Darby Township Council for 11 years while also holding his House seat, said he had been told there is no constitutional issue with holding two offices, a point that some knowledgable of the state constitution dispute.

"Even if it does meet constitutional muster, there would remain a conflict of interest," said Nathan Benefield, director of policy research with the conservative Commonwealth Foundation. "There could be a case for holding two completely unrelated offices - such as serving on a school board and as township supervisor - but legislating at two interlocked levels of government does not serve the citizens of either."

Civera said he would give up his council pay and take only his $105,000 salary as a House lawmaker.

When told of Civera's decision to stay through the budget process, an incredulous Edward J. Bradley Jr. of the Upper Darby Democratic Committee, said, "The next one?"

Bradley said if Civera were such a "necessary element" to the budget process, "Why wasn't it done in a timely fashion this year?"

Civera said that it would be "cumbersome" to switch leadership with next year's budget shaping up to be as fiscally challenging as the current one.

"I realize when I ran last year, I said I would not hold two positions, but I never gave a time or date that I would leave," said Civera. "I have no ambitions to stay longer than the budget takes."

But that could mean another year if the next budget process drags on as long as the current one. With only two session weeks left before the Christmas holiday break, lawmakers have yet to agree on legislation to allow table games at slots parlors. The current budget is dependent on receiving tax revenue from those games.

"The reality is, the representative ran on a promise to fulfill his obligation as a council member, and now it appears he's changed his mind," said Chuck Ardo, Rendell's former spokesman, who is now a consultant for the House Democratic Campaign Committee.

Of Rendell's plea to Civera to stay, Ardo said, "Ultimately, Rep. Civera answers to the people that elected him and not to the people in Harrisburg, many of whom would like to see him stay."

Given that a budget has never been completed by the required July 1 deadline during Rendell's nearly seven years in office, Civera's decision would almost certainly derail plans by House Speaker Keith McCall (D., Carbon) to call a special election for the legislative vacancies at the same time as the May 18 primary.

McCall's spokesman, Bob Caton, said last week that the speaker wanted to coordinate such an election with the May 18 primary to save money. Republicans charged that McCall wanted to take advantage of potential high Democratic turnout for the U.S. Senate primary between incumbent Arlen Specter and challenger U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak (D., Pa.).

"What is he going to do, run a special election at added cost?" asked Ardo. "There are a lot of questions to be answered here. Voters in his county deserve to know what he wants to do and why he wants to do it."