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Raymond P. Shafer, 89; governor left finances in disarray

December 13, 2006|From the Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — Former Pennsylvania Gov. Raymond P. Shafer, a Republican who oversaw tax increases to finance social programs and later pushed for federal decriminalization of personal marijuana use, died Tuesday. He was 89.

As governor from 1967 to 1971, Shafer led an overhaul of the state Constitution, winning several changes from the Republican-controlled Legislature and voters.

But by the time his term ended, the state's finances were a shambles, partly because of large spending increases Shafer pushed through. It was estimated that by the time he left office, Pennsylvania was spending $2 million more a day than it was bringing in.

President Nixon appointed Shafer chairman of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse in 1971, about the time Shafer was named chairman and chief executive officer of Teleprompter Corp.

In 1972, the commission recommended that the federal and state governments decriminalize the personal use of marijuana but continue to declare it an illegal substance.

"We feel that placed in proper perspective with other social problems, citizens should not be criminalized or jailed merely for private possession or use," Shafer said.

Nixon rejected the report, saying he would not follow any recommendation to legalize marijuana.

Under Shafer's watch as governor, spending grew as the state government began giving more to education and public assistance.

Spending on public assistance soared 187%, according to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

To try to bridge the gap, many state taxes were increased. The sales tax went from 5% to 6% in 1968, the highest in the nation at the time; the cigarette tax was raised; and numerous business taxes went up.

Pennsylvania's last governor to serve a single term, Shafer saw his popularity sink in 1969 when he proposed a state income tax, an idea so disliked that he was hanged in effigy by 250 protesters in Boston, Pa., who said they were holding a "second Boston Tea Party."

Born in New Castle, Pa., Shafer graduated from Allegheny College in 1938 and Yale Law School in 1941. He was in the Navy from 1942 to 1945, receiving the Purple Heart and Bronze Star while serving as the captain of a PT boat and in intelligence.

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