After pay raise 'mistake,' Rendell wants term limits

Governor also hopes to trim Legislature, limit campaign donations, create redistricting panel

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Gov. Ed Rendell initially thought that the legislative pay raise in 2005 was a good idea and that state House and Senate members shouldn't have term limits.

Now he's changed his mind on both points, admitting "I made a mistake'' by signing the pay raise, and saying that legislators should be limited to eight to 10 years in Harrisburg.

In an interview yesterday with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial board, Mr. Rendell also outlined three other ideas for reforming state government.

If re-elected Nov. 7, he'll propose reducing the size of the Legislature, enacting limits on how much one contributor can donate to a political campaign and creating a "citizens committee'' to redraw House and Senate district lines after the 2010 census.

Before becoming governor in January 2003, Mr. Rendell had opposed term limits for state legislators.

But he said he quickly learned that while many legislators may philosophically agree with certain ideas -- such as increasing wage or sales taxes to reduce property taxes -- they won't actually vote for such changes for fear of losing their seats. House members must face voters every two years, and senators every four years.

Regarding term limits, he said, "I was a little naive when I came here. When [legislators] look at the job as a career, it makes it difficult for them to do the right thing.''

With term limits, he said, legislators might be more willing to make decisions based on good government rather than just keeping themselves in office.

He also favors reducing the size of the Legislature, now at 203 House members and 50 senators. One possibility is cutting it to 140 or so House members and 40 or so senators, he said.

That would take a constitutional amendment, which could take three or four years to accomplish, said Russ Diamond, founder of PA Clean Sweep, one of the first citizens groups to protest the pay raise.

Mr. Diamond said that while the governor "is late in becoming a reformer,'' he was glad to hear Mr. Rendell's new views. But Mr. Diamond wondered if the governor is perhaps "thinking about doing something nationally in 2008,'' meaning running for president.

Mr. Rendell said if he is re-elected next month, he would serve out his full four-year term.

Mr. Rendell called for a citizens panel to develop new election district boundaries for House and Senate members after the 2010 census. The panel's recommendations should face only a "yes or no'' vote in the General Assembly, and legislators shouldn't be able to tinker with the lines.

Legislative leaders did the redistricting after the 2000 census and some districts got strange shapes, as incumbents lumped their areas of support together.

Mr. Rendell also called for limits on campaign contributions. He admitted that could be considered unusual because he has been a prodigious fund-raiser as Philadelphia mayor in the 1990s, Democratic national chairman in 2000-01 and now as governor.

Currently, there is no limit on donations to state campaigns. One idea, he said, would be to limit a contributor to no more than $5,000 for a candidate in a statewide race and $2,500 in a House or Senate race. He also said any new law should make it difficult for well-heeled donors to get around those limits. He said there would be no public money for campaigns as part of his plan.

Leonardo Alcivar, a spokesman for Republican gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann, criticized Mr. Rendell's reform ideas.

"These election-year reversals on government reform are a disgrace,'' he said. "Pennsylvanians know that if the question is how to clean up Harrisburg, the answer will never be Ed Rendell.''

At a debate in Pittsburgh Wednesday night, Mr. Swann touted himself as the candidate of "reform and results,'' adding that Mr. Rendell was merely interested in "rhetoric.''

Mr. Alcivar said that contrary to Mr. Rendell's supposed desire to limit campaign contributions, he just recently boasted of his fund-raising prowess, noting that the Rendell campaign said it had $13.76 million, "the most cash on hand of any incumbent governor in Pennsylvania history.''

Mr. Alcivar also said that according to a Wilkes-Barre newspaper, Mr. Rendell hadn't taken a position on reducing the size of the Legislature as recently as June.

Tim Potts, founder of Democracy Rising PA, another group that fought the 2005 pay raise, also said the governor is late coming to reform.

"He's had four years to do something and hasn't,'' Mr. Potts said. "Right now it's all talk.''

Mr. Potts insisted that other reforms are needed more than those the governor suggested.

Mr. Potts said Pennsylvania badly needs a law requiring Harrisburg lobbyists to publicly declare which special interests they are lobbying for, and to regularly disclose, on the Internet, their contributions to politicians.

He also said a strong open records law is needed so the public can find out about the General Assembly's activities.

"Pennsylvania has been at the bottom of the barrel in terms of political integrity,'' he said. "It's not a record we can be proud of.''


Tom Barnes can be reached at tbarnes@post-gazette.com or 717-787-4254. Ed Blazina can be reached at eblazina@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1470.


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