At closed Pa. facilities, lots of aggravation

24,000 Pa. workers on 1-day furlough.

Posted: July 09, 2007

One by one Monday, as people arrived at the state Driver's License Center in Center City to find its door gated and locked, they exploded into a rip-snorting, politician-blasting rage.

Actually - well, they were mostly just peeved.

"Definitely an inconvenience," said Marie Trusey, 42, who came to the office near 11th and Market Streets seeking a license after having moved from Delaware to Germantown.

And that's mostly how it went Monday during the one-day partial Pennsylvania government shutdown - inconvenience, irritation, some lost dollars and lost opportunities, but no major disasters.

About 24,000 state workers went on furlough at 12:01 a.m. Monday as the result of a budget-negotiation deadlock that closed government offices, museums, historic sites and campgrounds. A court decision allowed casinos to stay open.

Democratic Gov. Rendell and leaders of the Republican-controlled Senate were unable to reach an agreement over the weekend, which Rendell said left the state without authority to pay for "noncritical" services and employees. At issue were Rendell priorities that included a sprawling energy policy, which he had insisted the legislature approve before he would sign the spending plan, expected to be worth $27 billion.

At Tyler State Park in Newtown Township, Bucks County, visitors found closed gates and orange-and-white traffic barriers, but no posted explanation.

Garret Bonnema, 60, of Bethel, Maine, sat in his car for more than 20 minutes at the Swamp Road entrance, waiting to start his regular two-hour workout.

"Whenever I'm down here, I try to walk in the park to keep in shape and relax," said Bonnema, who grew up in the area. He was there on Sunday and saw a small sign on the men's room door that said "something about the state budget."

"But I didn't have time to read it," Bonnema said.

Also at the entrance was Robbie Jones of Rushland, who was waiting to stroll with her dogs, Exacta and Therese, who love to splash in the Neshaminy Creek.

"We moved here from California, and we're used to being able to go out in open spaces," Jones said. "It's a beautiful resource, but they've been taking trees down, and so every day I come, there's been some other problem."

Elsewhere around the state, disgruntled campers were cleaning up their campsites and heading home, their vacations cut short.

At Black Moshannon State Park near Philipsburg, Centre County, JoDee Dyerson and her family were told to be out of their cabin by 10 a.m. Monday. State park officials had previously said patrons would have until midnight to clear out.

"They made it the worst summer ever," said her 7-year-old son, McClane, as the family gathered for breakfast at a picnic table.

A sign posted at Codorus State Park, near Hanover, read: "Sorry for the inconvenience. State parks are closed until the state budget passes." Next to it, someone had posted a message: "When Do We Get Our Money Back!"

In Philadelphia, some employees at the State Office Building at Broad and Spring Garden Streets were among the 52,000 not furloughed.

"It's a little bit quieter than normal," said one worker, who declined to give her name, as she left for lunch. "I took the elevator from the 10th floor and I was the only one on it."

The corner, normally crowded with lunch trucks and vendors, was less busy. Most customers appeared to be students from the nearby Community College of Philadelphia.

Much of the Department of Transportation was closed - only 10 highway maintenance crews worked in the five-county region, instead of the usual 55. A total of 671 PennDot employees were told not to report, 71 percent of the local workforce.

Bridge inspectors, traffic-management staff and a few others were on the job, as was the district executive. In an emergency, he could summon extra crews, an agency spokesman said.

The biggest impact of the furloughs may have been on the families of those who work for the government - and who yesterday had no idea when their paychecks would resume. Critical services - such as state police, prison staffing and health care for the poor - were being maintained.

In Center City, at the Driver's License Center, people were irked to find the locked door.

"I heard about this on the news, but I didn't believe it," said Javier Vargas, 26, who brought his wife, Amber, to take her driver's examination. "I didn't think it was true that things would just shut down."

The building's janitor, Columbus Darnell Hurst, 35, periodically poked his head out the door to explain the situation. He said he was told the state would let custodians work for one day of the furlough.

Brenda Key, 21, wanted pamphlets to study for her driver's test, and Hurst went to get them for her. Others left empty-handed. Ousmane Bathily, 20, needed a license because his had expired - and he works in valet parking for the Alma de Cuba restaurant on Rittenhouse Row.

Paul Castoral, 26, planned to retake his driver's test. "This is my one day off this week and I'm leaving for a trip on Friday," he said. "What am I supposed to do?"

Others felt similar frustration.

Normally, Tyler State Park gets about 1,000 visitors on a warm July day. By daybreak, park manager Michael Crowley had been forced to turn away 20 or 30 people, most from the neighborhood.

"We're telling them that, for their safety, since there are only two of us here, they shouldn't use the park," he said.

Many who were turned away made other plans.

"I'm going to go to my gym," said a miffed Debbie Creighton of Newtown Township. "They shouldn't have shut the park, because the park is really important to people."


Contact staff writer Jeff Gammage at 610-313-8110 or jgammage@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writers Vernon Clark and Jeremy Rogoff contributed to this article. It also includes information from the Associated Press.

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