John Baer | During impasse, golf's on, singing in Capitol

Posted: July 10, 2007

AN INVITATION to golf with Paris Hilton, patriotic songs on a half-empty House floor and behind-the-scenes name-calling highlighted Day One of a partial Pennsylvania shutdown due to a budget impasse.

Heck, even John Perzel (back in action again!) chimed in.

And although I bet none of nearly 24,000 "nonessential" workers laid off while pols lay into each other find any of this much fun, to the outside world ya gotta admit the Keystone State entertains.

Take Rep. Mike Sturla and his fundraiser golf outing.

The Lancaster Democrat had a $250-to-$1,500-per-ticket gig at Bent Creek Country Club, in Lititz, yesterday with "special guest Paris Hilton (invited)."

Lunch at noon, tee-off at 1 p.m., prizes/drinks/hors d'oeuvres at 5 p.m.

The invitation says, "So put on some panties and let's golf!"

Since Lancaster County is among the most conservative places on the planet, I track Sturla down and ask about the "panties" line.

"Hey," he says, "if I said 'take off your panties,' but I said 'put them on.' "

I love this state.

Republicans bark about the outing after the Democratic House declines to go into session.

"I can't believe this. I coulda gone home," says Rep. Kate Harper, R-Montgomery County.

"They just ran away," says GOP spokesman Steve Miskin. "They must think they're nonessential employees."

Sturla says maybe 60 people attended his event but no other lawmakers. He says he wasn't golfing and was only 45 minutes from the Capitol if needed.

He also says Paris didn't show.

Back at the ranch, Republicans, who years ago threw the press off the House floor, invite the press onto the floor to show how they're there alone.

Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Indiana County, at one point, leads singing "God Bless America," turning to the empty Democratic side of the chamber saying, "Take it, Democrats."

Pyle calls Democrats "irresponsible" for leaving.

Some say Democrats should be on the floor voting a stopgap budget to pay state workers. But spokesman Tom Andrews says the Democrats want to concentrate on reaching a budget agreement.

Perzel?

Well, the Philly force and former speaker, a GOP veteran of budget fights past, says this year's doings surprise even him: "I've never heard of a governor shutting down government with a $650 million surplus."

He adds that Gov. Rendell's wish list keeps changing and says the fight devolved into issues such as tax credits for Hollywood filmmakers.

"I didn't know we were here for Hollywood," Perzel says, flashing a trademark impish smile.

Meanwhile, litigation stews over keeping casinos open, challenging layoffs and forcing two administration officials to comply with Senate subpoenas about the layoffs.

It's a good time, in other words, to be a connected lawyer.

It's also the fifth straight year the budget was late (Ah, Pennsylvania!) but the first time workers are laid off without pay.

Among the hang-ups are Rendell's energy package with a new electricity surcharge, now reportedly put off until after a budget pact, a statewide smoking ban and new borrowing for economic development projects, basically pork for lawmakers.

There are no tax increases at issue. There is a state surplus. Yet, amazingly to sensible people looking outside in, there is no budget.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (who some Democrats now call "Senator Screech") issued a statement saying Rendell's use of layoffs was a "slap the face of working families."

Sort of appropriate. To me the whole thing's starting to feel a little like old time slapstick. *

Send e-mail to baerj@phillynews.com.

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