Rendell gets $298M to dole out for state projects
HARRISBURG -- Gov. Ed Rendell gets $298 million to hand out for projects across the state during his final six months in office under legislation approved Saturday by the Senate and the House.
The money is part of a bill that raises the state's debt ceiling by $600 million for projects and occurs three days after lawmakers approved a $28 billion state budget -- which cuts funding for environmental regulation, libraries and agriculture; and provides no increase for state-related universities, such as the University of Pittsburgh. The budget bill also calls for no general tax increase.
One project to be funded by Rendell is the "Arlen Specter Library Project Center" at Philadelphia University. The library will be named after Sen. Arlen Specter, who was defeated in the May primary. And a Johnstown project -- the "John P. Murtha Center for Public Policy" -- will be named after the late Rep. John Murtha. Each project calls for $10 million in state money.
About one-third of the money, including the library -- $97 million -- will go to the city of Philadelphia, where Rendell served as mayor and district attorney.
The monetary distribution has prompted some Republican lawmakers, who opposed the borrowing, again to call Rendell the "governor of Philadelphia," said Stephen Miskin, spokesman for House Republicans.
The phrase was coined by Rep. John Maher, R-Upper St. Clair.
The other half of the borrowed money in essence goes to projects authorized by lawmakers in capital budgets. Rendell will decide which of those projects get funding.
The debt service paid by taxpayers on the $600 million will be about $48 million.
"This is another example of what's wrong with government," said Matthew Brouillette, president of Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative think tank. "While citizens continue to lose jobs, and the state is running a deficit, our governor and Legislature saw it fit to borrow hundreds of millions for self-serving, pork-barrel projects. Rendell's legacy will be the debt and overspending he strapped our kids and grandkids with for decades to come."
Governors traditionally hand out bundles of cash near the end of their terms.
Former Republican Gov. Tom Ridge secured millions for his hometown of Erie. And the late Democratic Gov. Robert Case pumped money into Scranton.
Miskin contended the amount Rendell will hand out is "extreme," although it can't be confirmed.
Numerous attempts to reach Rendell's press secretary Gary Tuma yesterday were unsuccessful.
According to Philadelphia property-tax records, Rendell and Specter each own homes near Philadelphia University.
The sponsor of the debt bill is House Appropriations Chairman Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia -- one of the key members of the leadership negotiating the budget deal and its related parts with the Senate and Rendell. The list of projects going to Rendell hasn't been available until a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting late Friday.
Rendell has insisted that the bill raising the debt ceiling be approved as part of the budget deal. He has said he will sign the budget Tuesday.
The Senate approved the debt bill 38-12. In the House, the vote was 110-85. Most Republicans voted against it but eight Republicans voted yes. The lone Democratic opponent was Rep. John Pallone of New Kensington.
Many projects do not include the name of the institution or company. For instance, $30 million is slated for a "biologics facility" in Allegheny County at an unspecified location and institution.
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