From Tom Barnes
HARRISBURG -- If there ever was a governor who loved road trips, it’s Ed Rendell.
Today and Tuesday, he’ll be traveling to five counties in western Pennsylvania trying to sell residents on his plan to provide more funding for basic education and to make major changes in the sales tax -- lowering the rate from 6 percent to 4 percent but removing 74 of the current exemptions.
He also pushing for other new taxes to cushion the loss of federal stimulus funds in 2011, such as enacting a wellhead tax on natural gas pumped from the plentiful areas of Marcellus shale in the state and taxing, for the first time, the sale of cigars and smokeless tobacco.
At stops in Erie, Sharon and other towns, he said that his call for providing an additional $355 million for basic education in the fiscal year that starts July is critical for improving schools and student test scores and for keeping local property taxes down.
Republicans who control the Senate have already expressed strong opposition to his call for changes in the sales tax and for new natural gas levies and tobacco taxes. Their opposition to what the Democratic governor wants could cause another budget stalemate this year. Last year the budget was 101 days late.
Legislators want to enact the fiscal 2010-11 budget by the deadline of July 1, for the first time under Gov. Rendell. But if GOP senators follow through on their plans to chop at least $1 billion from Mr. Rendell’s $29 billion budget proposal, it likely would upset the governor, who is doing his final budget before leaving office in January.