HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (AP) -- Gov. Ed Rendell said he was optimistic that he and the Legislature could soon break a budget stalemate that caused him to order a partial shutdown of government services Monday.
The furlough of about 24,000 state workers that Rendell announced just before midnight Sunday will have wide repercussions in the state, not least the closing of museums and parks at the height of the summer tourist season.
Pennsylvanians will be unable to take driver's license tests. Highway maintenance and a range of permitting and licensing functions will be stopped or severely curtailed. Even the lights illuminating the Capitol's dome are to be turned off.
Gamblers and employees of the state's five slots parlors got a reprieve when a judge granted a request late Sunday by casino owners to remain open, at least until a Tuesday hearing.
Rendell, whose last-ditch negotiations with lawmakers fell short of a budget deal that could have averted the furloughs and partial shutdown, said he hoped the budget impasse would be brief.
"I sincerely hope that this will be a one-day furlough and I have reason for optimism," he said at a news conference outside his Capitol office Sunday night, but declined to discuss remaining areas of disagreement.
On Monday, the partisan battle of wills between the Democratic governor and the Republicans who control the Senate entered its ninth day since the new fiscal year began. Lacking an approved budget, the state has lost the authority to spend money on nonessential services and employees.
With Rendell's order, state workers whose jobs are not deemed critical to health and safety were furloughed without pay. Critical services -- such as health care for the poor, state police patrols and prisons -- will be maintained. About 52,000 state workers will remain on the job and be paid on time.
Republicans said they doubted that the furloughs were a legal necessity and repeated complaints that Rendell has included other priorities in the budget talks. Key sticking points include raising the state's debt ceiling and an energy plan that Rendell has insisted the Legislature approve before he signs the budget, they said.
"We have a $650 million surplus in Pennsylvania," said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, a Republican. "There's absolutely no reason why we can't have a budget agreement. We could have had a budget earlier but for these ancillary issues."
The centerpiece of Rendell's energy plan would place a surcharge on electricity use for a fund for alternative energy programs and electricity conservation. Republican legislators and some Democrats oppose the surcharge and accused the governor of holding state employees hostage to force them to approve it.
"I can't believe that a man who would call himself governor would do this to state employees," said Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, a Republican.
David Fillman, the executive director of Council 13 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said his union members, 14,000 of whom face furlough, should not have been caught in the middle of a political dispute.
"A lot of them live paycheck to paycheck, and even if it's a day's pay that they lose, it has an effect on their personal budgets," Fillman said.
A legal effort by state employees' unions to put furloughs on hold failed Saturday, but a hearing was scheduled for Monday.
On Sunday, Mark Tintle of Shady Side, Maryland, was packing up and leaving French Creek State Park in the Philadelphia suburbs. He and his wife drove 31/2 hours Friday night in a car packed with supplies for a weeklong camping vacation, but were told they would have to leave Monday.
"The most disappointing part is that it wasn't something that was uncontrollable," Tintle said. "It wasn't because of a fire, a flood, an act of God. It was just an act of bureaucracy, of Democrats versus Republicans."
Gamblers trying their luck at Philadelphia Park Racetrack and Casino in Bensalem, just outside Philadelphia, called the showdown nothing more than politics. "It's all grandstanding, and it's ridiculous," said Maryann Breen, playing a Wheel of Fortune machine.
Reference: CNN news article.
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Statewide Park Advisory.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has not yet adopted a budget for this fiscal year. If a budget is not approved by midnight July 8, 2007, state parks will be closed. Due to this potential closure, we are not taking advance reservations for arrivals from July 8 through 11. Parks will remain closed until the budget is passed.
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