Gov. Ed Rendell Legacy: High Taxes, Low Ratings

Wednesday, 12 Jan 2011 04:24 PM

By Chris Freind

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After two terms as mayor of Philadelphia, Ed Rendell was elected governor of Pennsylvania in 2002 amid hope he would lead the state in the right direction. But his eight years at the helm were disastrous.

Up to this point, Rendell's legacy was three things: statewide gambling, which did not live up to the promise of tax relief; huge tax hikes, coupled with a 40 percent increase in spending; and a perception of widespread pay-to-play within his administration. Of lesser note were his signing an unconstitutional legislative pay raise and not getting a single budget passed on time.

But now, the image of Rendell etched in people's minds is the governor blowing his top during his “60 Minutes” interview.

With teeth clenched in a menacing growl, he karate-chops the air and screams at interviewer Lesley Stahl, "You guys don't get that. You're simpletons. You're idiots if you don't get that." He was defending his position that if gamblers are going to lose their paychecks, it's better for state coffers if they lose them in Pennsylvania.

Truth be told, Rendell's anger wasn't really directed at Stahl. An intelligent man, the governor is well aware that, under his watch, the state earned points in all the wrong categories: some of the highest taxes in the country; the most hostile legal system, causing doctors and companies to flee; a failing educational product; the country's worst roads; and a decimated manufacturing base.

Pennsylvania's biggest export is its children, and that, more than anything, has extinguished the hope for a better tomorrow under Rendell.

His approval ratings are dismal — in the 20s throughout much of the state. The realization of failure has set in, and backlashes result.

But the most surprising aspect of Rendell's unpopularity is that it occurred despite the media's cozy relationship with the governor. That free pass culminated when the (former) publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News sought a taxpayer bailout from Rendell himself, who was ready to comply. Thankfully, this was eventually nixed.

But if you read the recent editorial in the Inquirer, you'd have thought Rendell walked on water: "He is leaving office as one of the most effective and capable governors that Pennsylvania has ever had."

Nothing like telling 70 percent of Pennsylvanians they are dead wrong. And who says the media is elitist?"Rendell has led the state to impressive gains in public education."

How? We have unacceptable dropout rates, functional illiterates, low SAT scores and unaccountable teachers unions. But God forbid we try school choice. The unions wouldn't like that, and far be it for the governor to offend a big contributor.

First and foremost, Rendell took care of his political pals and big-dollar contributors, which was completely lost on the Inquirer's editorial board as it opined, "Rendell's push for tax breaks resulted in the construction of Comcast's new corporate headquarters in Center City."

Tax breaks? Those were blatant cash giveaways! The Comcast-Rendell High-Speed Money Connection was simply corporate welfare to a multibillion dollar giant whose executives and PAC just so happened to throw almost $750,000 Rendell's way. And Rendell was a paid Comcast sports commentator while governor!

"The new casino industry is providing jobs, as well as revenue for significant property-tax relief." Where?

Instituting addictive gambling as the Administration’s centerpiece and thinking it will lead to an economic revival is simply naive. But to rabidly defend it despite its failures is deserving of pity.

"Overall, this governor was a friend of citizens whose voices don't often get heard in the halls of power. Pennsylvania has benefited as a result." Wait. When did politically connected law firms, unions and big-time fundraisers stop having their voices heard?

The sad reality: If Rendell kept his word by not vetoing the Fair Share Act (limiting liability in lawsuits), if he hadn't taxed people and businesses to the brink, if he had acted with even a shred of responsibility when it came to budget spending, if he demanded accountability in our schools instead of being beholden to union interests, and if he instituted transparency and reform in state government, then Pennsylvania wouldn't be near the bottom in job creation, economic opportunity — and hope.

That this is lost on the insulated media is not surprising. But it's certainly not lost on the only ones who matter — the people. Incoming Gov. Tom Corbett and his GOP would do well to remember that.

A legacy is a terrible thing to waste.

Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, FreindlyFireZone.com He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com

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