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Editorial: Pennsylvania's Budget

Spring! Time to stall

Now that May has turned to June, Republican leaders in Harrisburg are warning that they might not be able to complete the state budget on time.

This phenomenon is seasonal. Each spring, the robins return to Pennsylvania. Each June, state GOP leaders begin to chirp that Gov. Rendell has given them too much work to do.

The budget deadline is June 30. Rendell submitted his $28.3 billion spending plan in February. On most planets, that's enough time to finish a budget.

But not in Harrisburg, where Democrat Rendell attempts annually to enact an ambitious agenda, and Republican legislators, like the George Costanza character on


, try to do the opposite.

Last year, the partisan deadlock dragged on long enough to cause a one-day government shutdown. More than 20,000 state employees were ordered to stay home, and state parks and Motor Vehicle Services offices were closed.

This year, Rendell has proposed several worthy goals in addition to the usual spending necessities:

He wants to extend state-subsidized health insurance to about 275,000 uninsured adults over five years. The cost would be paid through a 10-cent-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax and the state's first tax on smokeless tobacco and cigars.

Rendell also wants to create an $850 million fund, through the sale of bonds, to encourage the development of alternative energy sources.

He's proposed borrowing about $2 billion for bridge repairs, and an additional $750 million for water and sewer projects, as part of a plan to stimulate the state's economy.

Finally, the governor wants to overhaul the state's school funding formula with $2.6 billion over six years, based on a "costing out" study commissioned by the legislature.

The House passed the health insurance bill, but the Republican-controlled Senate hasn't shown much progress on any of these initiatives. In fact, the Senate's record to date this year has been far from impressive.

Among the 18 bills also passed by the House that the Senate has enacted into law since Jan. 1, four named bridges, three involved land transfers, and one pertained to fishing licenses. Only one bill, the state's new open-records law, was a major piece of legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Chester) said the GOP has been willing to bargain on health care, economic stimulus and energy. And Rendell sounded optimistic yesterday after a meeting with House and Senate leaders of both parties.

So now, GOP negotiators need to keep at the job in a spirit of give-and-take, and not follow last year's example of simply resisting the governor on all fronts.

Some Republicans are leery about all the borrowing Rendell has proposed - about $4 billion. That's a legitimate concern, but Pennsylvania's overall debt is average, when compared with what other states owe.

Too often at budget time, the GOP in Harrisburg has been content to sit on its thumbs. This budget season, the Senate GOP needs to do more than just say "no" to proposals that would result in real progress for working Pennsylvanians.