Pennsylvania Shuts Down Visible Services in Tax-Hike Impasse

July 9, 2007

If you wanted to see where Washington crossed the Delaware, or access the Pennsylvania State Archives, or go boating on the Susquehanna River, you’re out of luck today. Despite a $650 million state budget surplus, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell is insisting on new spending and electricity taxes that the legislature is reluctant to support. Because of the lack of a state budget, Pennsylvania today shut down all non-essential state government services and furloughed some 25,000 state employees.

Among the “essential” services that are still open are five state-run casinos and state liquor stores, as well as prisons and health care programs for the poor. Closed are state parks, permitting and licensing bureaus like the DMV, and even the lights that illuminate the dome on the state capitol. That way, TV news cameras at the capitol will have something to show on screen as evidence of the state’s distress.

A few months ago, we mentioned the “Washington Monument” ploy used by government agencies to justify revenue increases or prevent budget cuts. A threatened agency immediately warns that it will have to cut or shut down the most popular service under its control. The name comes from the National Park Service, which gets Congress to approve budget hikes by warning that it might have to cut hours at the Washington Monument.

The Associated Press interviewed disappointed park-goers and driver’s test-takers, showing that the Washington Monument ploy is working perfectly. And the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission ignores the tax-hike issue altogether in its one-sided press release:

Governor Edward G. Rendell proposed a $27.3 billion budget on Feb. 6 that offered solutions for Pennsylvania’s transportation funding crisis, relief for overburdened property taxpayers, innovative ideas for attracting the best and brightest scientists to find cures for the world’s deadliest diseases, ways to free residents from their dependence on foreign oil, expansion of successful education initiatives and bold ideas for bringing health care to every Pennsylvanian.

Recently, however, members of the Senate opted, instead, to demand that the budget cut millions of dollars from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade education programs, economic development and job training programs, as well as child care and mental health programs.

Who could be against curing deadly diseases and successful and bold ideas? Perhaps the “Washington Monument” ploy should be renamed “pulling a Rendell.”

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