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Casey unveils plan to boost economy

| Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2002

Auditor General Robert P. Casey Jr. presented an economic development plan Monday designed to "jump-start" the state's sluggish economy while pushing for an increase in the minimum wage.

Meanwhile, the tone of the Democratic gubernatorial campaign became personal as Casey criticized former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, his opponent, for besmirching his late father's name.

Casey faulted Rendell for failing to disavow comments made by Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, comparing the late Gov. Robert P. Casey's views on abortion to those of religious broadcaster Pat Robertson and Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina.

"The complaint I had is someone who is deceased or who is not running for governor ... or is a member of my family should not be brought into this campaign," Casey said.

"I think it should be off limits. People want a vigorous debate ... and their proposals and plans to make this state stronger."

Both candidates have been presenting their policy proposals almost weekly in a campaign that is gaining momentum. After Casey's announcement yesterday, Rendell said he plans a major announcement later today in Pittsburgh in which he is expected to be endorsed by Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy.

If he's elected, Casey said, he would work with local officials to cut red tape and make available for development former industrial and commercial sites. He also proposed doubling the tax credit for small businesses to $30 million to enable entrepreneurs to give their workers additional training in technology fields.

He also proposes raising the $1.2 billion Capital Redevelopment Assistance grant program by $300 million over three years, providing $175 million in grants and loans to upgrade municipal water and sewage systems across the state and expanding or creating high-speed telecommunications networks.

Casey also wants to better coordinate state funding, especially in rural areas.

Casey said the program will cost $35.1 million the first year and believes the money can be found in the General Fund. He said his economic development plan is conservative by design.

"We are purposely conservative in this plan to make sure we can pay for it with General Fund dollars but with the understanding you need to balance this with fiscal conservatism.

"The worse thing to do is not use General Fund dollars to jump-start the economy."

The Pennsylvania Economy League produced a poll earlier this month that said the economy and education are the issues voters most want the gubernatorial candidates to talk about. The league says that the new governor will inherit a 2003 budget that will not include much money to initiate new economic and community development programs.

Casey said he believes the money is available through the General Fund without a tax increase.

While Pennsylvania added more than 500,000 new jobs in the 1990s, the league said the commonwealth still trailed other states in economic growth: Pennsylvania's economy grew by 25 percent in the last decade compared to the 35 percent national economic growth rate.

An economic study by the league also found the state could have increased its new jobs by 1 million, generating more than $40 billion more in personal income.

In the past several weeks, Casey has proposed economic development programs that take into account social issues as well as economic ones.

He has proposed using tobacco settlement funds to help pay for health care insurance for the unemployed and working poor, increasing the minimum wage and expanding vocational-technical training.

He also unveiled a program, "Start Smarter," which is designed to help families of small children find affordable preschools and gain access to early education programs.

"Our goal must be ... to make Pennsylvania a more attractive place for business to locate and expand and for young people to find jobs," Casey said. "Keeping young people in Pennsylvania is one of the more compelling challenges ... it's not going to get any easier."

Casey is proposing a $1-per-hour increase in the minimum wage next year, followed by a 50-cent-an-hour raise in 2004, which would increase the minimum wage to $6.65 an hour.

He said Republicans "underestimate the people's fervor on this issue at their own peril."

He said lawmakers have balked at raising the minimum wage but are not as reluctant to approve corporate tax breaks and pay hikes for themselves and other elected officials.

"If the state of Pennsylvania can provide all types of corporate tax breaks... we can also vote to help people making the minimum wage."

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