Monday, September 21, 2009

It's a deal in Harrisburg

Stop the presses. The state of Pennsylvania has a new budget.

How can I tell? Yes, that was Gov. Ed Rendell back on the set of the Eagles “Post-Game Live” show on Comcast last night. Maybe the guv should have stayed in Harrisburg. The team played a lot better last week when he was hanging out in the middle of the state.

It only took 80 days past the July 1 deadline, but the state does indeed have a new fiscal plan.

It will not come without some pain. Especially if you’re a smoker. Yes, you’re about to get hit again. The state will slap another quarter-a-pack tax on butts. They’re also taking aim at small cigars.

The $27.9 billion spending plan also had a surprise for patrons of the arts, as well as the organizations that run them. The state for the first time will slap a tax on cultural performances and venues. That means if you want to go the Art Museum, or take in a show by the Philadelphia Orchestra, it’s going to cost you more. Movies and sports events are exempt. And isn’t it nice to know that not only are tax dollars used to build the multi-billion dollar playground for all these millionaire players and owners, but they also managed to work around any other new tax levy. At least fans won’t have to dig deeper for what are already outrageously priced tickets.

The same can’t be said for fans of the arts. They’re going to get hit every time they go to a museum, the theater or a concert.

Many cultural organizations already reeling from budget cuts see this as adding insult to injury.

Rendell wants to be known as the “education governor.” He’s vowing to make that his legacy.

This nasty budget fight shows just how far he is willing to go to keep it that way. Rendell stuck to his guns on education funding, and even his opponents are now admitting he got what he wanted. Funding for early education programs was for the most part not touched. Neither was the new program he unveiled last year that shifted the way the state allocates funds, with more money going to those districts most in need.

The budget also clears the way for table games to arrive in state casinos.

All of this has to be approved by the Legislature. But for now, it appears the state has a new budget. Finally.

As with any budget, there are winners and losers. Or, in the case of table games, both.

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