Growing Redder Too

It’s safe to say that nearly every Pennsylvanian wants to “improve the quality of life in Pennsylvania … create new jobs, revitalize our communities and sustain our families.” And according to Gov. Ed Rendell, that is what the $625 million debt proposal on the May 17 ballot will accomplish.

However, while “Growing Greener II” will definitely put taxpayers deeper into debt, it will not likely improve our commonwealth’s business climate or environment. Indeed, Pennsylvanians should take into account a number of important facts as they prepare to cast their vote.

First, the proposal—which the governor claims would be “the single largest investment in environmental programs in our state’s history”—is silent on how taxpayers will pay off this new debt. Nor does it spell out which specific programs will be funded.

Second, the underlying premise of the proposal is that government bureaucrats—not individual citizens and businesses—should have the greatest say in directing our commonwealth’s economic and environmental development.

And finally, it ignores policy options that could provide the same economic and environmental improvements, without further burdening Pennsylvania’s taxpayers.

In pushing Growing Greener II, Gov. Rendell has argued that Pennsylvania’s poor economic performance will be improved through increased taxpayer “investment” in environmental initiatives. However, he has offered little evidence to support that claim. Indeed, adding hundreds of millions of dollars in debt will further harm Pennsylvania’s already-inhospitable business climate, as new or increased taxes or fees will almost certainly be needed to pay for the borrowing plan.

For example, Gov. Rendell has called for new and increased waste and emission fees on businesses. These increased costs, however, would likely be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices for goods and services and to employees through decreased wages and benefits. Or, if the cost of doing business becomes too onerous, companies will continue to leave Pennsylvania altogether.

And while Republicans claimed that their alternative plan would not rely on new or increased taxes or fees, this statement, though technically correct, is incomplete and misleading. Their plan called for removing the sunset provision from the recently increased waste disposal fee. Doing so would constitute a tax increase for years following the original sunset date, as consumers would continue to pay a tax that is currently set to expire.

Therefore, given the inclinations of both Gov. Rendell and the General Assembly leadership, Pennsylvania taxpayers shouldn’t be surprised if they’re told to open their wallets a little wider if the referendum is passed. Indeed, nothing prevents state officials from approving new or increased taxes or fees at some future date to fund the debt service.

Finally, although Gov. Rendell has argued that Pennsylvanians will know “the basic programs in which the money will be spent,” voters are, in effect, being asked to give the state a $625 million “gift certificate” that the General Assembly will decide how to specifically spend later on.

But worst of all, Growing Greener II ignores policy options that could improve the commonwealth’s environment without expanding the size and scope of government or increasing the taxpayers’ debt burden. For example, a much better way to preserve farmland is to eliminate the state’s inheritance tax, which compels so many farmers to sell their land to developers, rather than pass it on to family members. And the most effective way to preserve open space is to fix the crime, tax, and educational problems in many Pennsylvania cities that pushes families with children out into the suburbs.

At the same time, local, private and non-profit conservation groups should take the lead in preserving land that they don’t want developed, not state government. There is no reason why tax dollars spent on land preservation could not instead remain with individuals, who could then donate their own money voluntarily for that purpose.

As for other environmental clean-up efforts, it should be the entities that abandoned mines, damaged creeks and streams, and polluted industrial sites—not taxpayers—who bear the primary responsibility for remediation. However, if such remediation efforts truly require statewide taxpayer support, existing funds could be re-directed from the state’s ineffective corporate welfare programs.

While Pennsylvanians obviously want an environmentally safe and economically prosperous state, Growing Greener II guarantees neither. In fact, the only guarantee of Growing Greener II is that we would put our children further into debt.

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Grant R. Gulibon is senior policy analyst with the Commonwealth Foundation (, an independent, non-profit public policy research and educational institute located at the foot of the Capitol in Harrisburg.