Pa. sends furlough notices for Monday

Posted: July 03, 2007

HARRISBURG - Preparing for a partial state government shutdown, the Rendell administration began sending furlough notices today to about 25,000 state workers, telling them not to show up for work on Monday unless the budget impasse is resolved.

That would mean that a host of government services and sites - from state parks to drivers' license centers and casinos - would close.

"As much as I don't like the fact that someone who works for the state would lose a week or two weeks of salary . . . I think there are issues that are on the table that are important to the quality of life of 12½ million Pennsylvanians," Gov. Rendell told reporters at a Capitol news conference today. "That's what this fight is all about."

The notices went out as Harrisburg entered the third day of the new fiscal year without a state budget in place and as rhetoric between the Democratic governor and Republic legislative leaders intensified.

Talks between the two sides over a $27 billion-plus fiscal blueprint and a host of ancillary measures have stalled as Republicans have dug in and accused Rendell of holding the budget process hostage.

Still, the governor held out hope today that he would be able to rescind the furloughs as late as Sunday night if he believed that there was a good-faith effort from legislators to strike a budget compromise in the coming days. And, Rendell also said he is open to approving a short-term stopgap spending measure that would avert the furloughs.

If a budget deal isn't reached, state workers regarded as "nonessential" would be furloughed without pay, although their health-care benefits would continue. PennDot, where 13,000 workers are in line for furloughs, would be hit hardest.

But 52,000 employees in jobs deemed essential to health and safety - from state police to corrections officers to welfare caseworkers - would continue working and being paid.

"Although the essential services to the commonwealth will continue, this is not a step that comes without pain - pain to at least 25,000 people and their families," Rendell said today. "It's something that we regret is necessary."

And 1,700 more workers - including Rendell, his cabinet and senior staff - would continue to work but wouldn't get a paycheck until after the impasse was resolved.

About 12,400 people who work in state government-related agencies, such as the Lottery and the Liquor Control Board, will remain on the job with pay. The lottery would not be affected and the state-run liquor stores would remain open.

Without a budget in place, slots parlors would close at 7 a.m. Monday. That's because state Revenue Department employees who monitor the centralized computer system that tracks the state's share of slots winnings would be furloughed.

House Republicans pushed today for a vote on a bill that would provide temporary funding for revenue department workers to keep the casinos open. A vote was not taken before the House recessed, and Rendell said he did not support the legislation because it placed more importance on those jobs than other state employees.

This marks the fifth consecutive year since Rendell took office in 2003 that a state budget wasn't passed by the June 30 deadline.

If employees are forced to stay home on Monday, it would be the first time state government had furloughed workers as a result of a budget impasse, said Mia DeVane, a spokeswoman with the Office of Administration. During a 34-day budget impasse in 1991, thousands of employees worked without paychecks, but they were not furloughed, she said.

Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he was optimistic that furloughs could be avoided. But he stressed that they were not some political ploy.

"This is no game," he said. "This is no joke."

House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese (D., Greene) said the sides were not that far apart on agreeing to an overall spending package and that "a budgetary handshake" could come in the next two or three days.

Nonetheless, today was filled with partisan bickering, both on the floor of the two legislative chambers and in news conferences.

The major sticking point is Rendell's energy independence strategy, which would require a $5.40-a-year surcharge on home electric bills. Republicans in the House and Senate call the program yet another hidden tax.

From the floor of the Senate today, President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati (R., Jefferson) said he saw parallels between the current situation and what happened 231 years ago.

"There was a revolution that led up to Independence Day. And it was over a king; a king that wanted just a few taxes on tea," he said. "And Americans were sick and tired of it then, and Pennsylvanians are sick and tired of it now. I think the governor needs to look at King George and see what happened."

Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) blasted Rendell for what he called a "perversion of the legislative process."

"The governor is insisting on his agenda being passed on his timetable and he is willing to hold the government hostage," said Pileggi.

In the House, Rep. Jerry Nailor, whose suburban Harrisburg district is home to hundreds of state workers, pushed for the House to stay in session to settle the impasse. The Senate was scheduled to return Thursday. House members are on call for the July Fourth holiday, but with no negotiations scheduled it appeared highly unlikely that they would return until Thursday.

"I don't know what to tell these people," said Nailor (R., Cumberland). "They have been defined as nonessential - that's not by me but by this administration."

Contact staff writer Mario F. Cattabiani at 717-787-5990 or

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