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Governor plans busy final year

Rendell hopes to push for natural gas drilling tax and boost in education spending.

HARRISBURG — Ed Rendell is a smaller man than he used to be — 56 pounds smaller, to be exact — but he vows to remain a weighty political force in his final year as governor.

The Democrat whose annual clashes with legislative Republicans have pushed state budget negotiations into overtime for seven years in a row says he will press for a controversial tax on natural-gas drilling and another boost in education spending next year, even as major new financial pressures are expected to mount.

Will he renew his call for an income-tax increase?

“We’ll see,” he said at a year-end news briefing.

He dismissed the notion that his clout at the Capitol will wane as the public’s attention gravitates toward the competitive Democratic and Republican gubernatorial primary races that will be decided May 18.

“I’m the governor of the fifth-largest state in the union and the governor wields a significant amount of power here,” he said. “The only way the governor doesn’t stay relevant is that the governor just gives up the ghost and doesn’t do his job. I intend to stay very relevant.”

Rendell, who turns 66 on Jan. 5, also made clear that he expects to be involved in the gubernatorial campaign.

He said he plans to send a letter to all gubernatorial candidates, offering to provide background briefings on the intricacies of the state budget and any issues in which they are interested.

“I hope they’ll avail themselves of it,” he said. If they make factual errors about the administration on the campaign trail, “I will correct them, Democrats and Republicans alike.”

At this point, the candidates are still struggling to get the voters’ attention.

State Attorney General Tom Corbett, a Republican whose ongoing legislative corruption probe has kept his name in the news, appears to be the only candidate with any substantial name recognition.

A Quinnipiac University poll taken earlier this month showed that while 43 percent of Pennsylvania voters held favorable opinions of Corbett, 50 percent said they didn’t know enough to form an opinion.

More than 70 percent said they lacked enough information to form opinions about the other candidates named in the poll — Republican Jim Gerlach and Democrats Chris Doherty, Joe Hoeffel, Tom Knox, Dan Onorato and Jack Wagner.

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