Former PA Governor Ed Rendell Weighs in on DNC, NJ Budget Troubles

Rendell at Wednesday's press conference

Rendell at Wednesday’s press conference

PHILADELPHIA — Ahead of this month’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell scoffed at the political fallout lawmakers in neighboring New Jersey might face for raising the state’s gas tax Wednesday. He also weighed in on the deepening ties between state Democrats and their neighbors across the Delaware.

At a press conference announcing a student journalism project allowing Philadelphia middle and high-schoolers to gain experience by covering the convention, Rendell said the political doomsaying never panned out for fellow Democrats in his state.

Funding the state’s ailing Transportation Trust Fund through that gas tax hike has been one of New Jersey’s most contentious political issues in years, with Governor Chris Christie supporting an Assembly plan to offset the increase with cuts to the sales tax against Senate Democrats’ original plan to offer colleagues across the aisle a phase-out of the estate tax.

“The problem is that elected officials are scared to raise revenue,” Rendell said of the standoff and its parallels with Pennsylvania’s own ongoing budget troubles. “That’s the hole for New Jersey, that’s the hole for Pennsylvania. And they shouldn’t be scared to raise money. People understand if the projects are good, they’re going to cost money.”

Rendell pointed to that state’s gas tax increase, which passed in 2013. Rendell said he corralled Democrats to get it through, and that New Jersey’s elected officials should be able to do the same. That increase followed a 16-day partial shutdown of the state government. Transportation projects in New Jersey are currently on hold following an executive order from Christie.

“Not one incumbent lost in 2014 because they voted for that tax increase,” he said, noting that Republicans and Democrats alike used opponents’ ‘Yes’ votes as ammunition that year.

This year’s DNC will also see New Jersey and Pennsylvania edge closer in another way — insurance executive George Norcross, one of the most powerful unelected figures in New Jersey, will be hosting a concert in Camden to complement the convention itself.

Norcross and his brother Congressman Donald Norcross helped to reshape that city’s downtown by expanding Cooper Hospital, where Norcross serves on the board, and with far-reaching tax incentives for private investors.

That move follows overtures toward Philadelphia’s first-term mayor Jim Kenney on the day of his inauguration. It will also be the first Philadelphia convention to be covered by Philly Voice, the news blog run by Norcross’ daughter Lexie. The site opened after Norcross lost a high-profile bidding war over the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News and was later found to have a domain name registered to Norcross’ insurance firm.

“George has to show some of the good things in South Jersey and this is a great way to do it,” Rendell said. “And by Thursday afternoon the delegates will be pretty counted, so I think giving them a free show is a great idea.”

The student journalists will be working with staff from Philadelphia NPR affiliate WHYY, Philadelphia Magazine, and several local television networks in a program sponsored by the nonprofit Philadelphia Youth Network. Kenney praised the program in a statement.

“We make Philadelphia a stronger city when we provide opportunities for young people to develop real skills and knowledge that will help them develop their careers and be active members of their communities,” Kenney wrote.

“These youth engagement programs orchestrated by the Philadelphia 2016 Host Committee provide the young residents of our city with a unique opportunity to take on a leadership role within their community.”