Rendell calls Dems' tax vote 'a step back'

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - October 3, 2009

The Democratic governor said he shared many of the positions reflected in the revenue bill, but noted it was not the deal House Democratic leaders and he had announced with the state Senate two weeks ago.

"I understand what the members have done," Rendell said at a news conference in which he did not take questions. "I understand the point that they were insisting that they make yesterday. But doing a budget is not about making points, it's not about setting out markers, it's about compromise and it's about shared pain."

The bill that passed the House on Friday on a nearly party-line basis swapped out proposed taxes on arts and cultural events and on small games of chance and replaced them with new levies on cigars and other tobacco products as well as on natural gas drilling.

"Its future is no doubt in serious question in the Senate, and that means it's a step back," Rendell said. "It's a step back because it brings us further away from having a signed budget that advances the ball."

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, called the House action "a complete repudiation" of their agreement and said the backtracking will make it "very, very difficult" to conduct productive talks in the future.

"People in everyday life realize that you can't pick and choose the parts of an agreement you want to honor and simply dishonor the others," Pileggi said.

House Democratic spokesman Brett Marcy said the changes retained essential elements of the previous deal, including its overall size and the presence of recurring revenue to address concerns about potential future tax increases.

Rendell said he did not like the arts or small-games taxes but was willing to live up to the budget agreement. In the Legislature, only the House Republicans had not signed onto the Sept. 18 deal, saying they could not support its level of spending or its new taxes.

House Republicans also voted overwhelmingly against the tax plan Friday night, but the majority Democrats mustered enough votes for it to pass, 103-98. Democratic leaders said their new approach was needed after they realized significant Republican support would not develop and the three-caucus-and-governor deal lacked sufficient Democratic support.

Pileggi said he never promised House Republican votes to the Democrats.

"It sounds like a very weak attempt to provide a fig leaf on an obviously naked dishonoring of an agreement," he said.

If the leaders could not gather enough votes, he said, they should not gone public with what sounded like a done deal.

"You would have thought that they would have known where their caucus would be on these issues by September," Pileggi said.

Rendell said he planned to talk soon with legislative leaders about the next steps in the budget process.

"I believe we're still very, very close to having a budget," he said. "I know some analysts have said that this puts us back to square one. I disagree. I think the framework for a budget deal is still there."

He urged lawmakers to "put aside our personal preferences and work with one goal in mind, what's good for the people of Pennsylvania."

The House held a brief session Saturday in which members unanimously approved a welfare bill that is part of the package of legislation that makes up the state budget. A bill related to state borrowing also was approved 137-59, with Republicans casting all the negative votes.

Pileggi said the Senate would probably return to session Monday to consider various budget bills, and the bipartisan conference committee was scheduled to reconvene to consider the primary spending bill Monday.

The House was expected to take up a measure on Sunday to legalize and tax table games such as poker and blackjack at slots casinos.

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