Pennsylvania Governor Orders Partial Shutdown

Nearly 25,000 Pennsylvania state employees stayed home from work Monday after Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and the Republican-led state legislature failed to resolve a budget stalemate.

The governor said he ordered the partial government shutdown because without an approved budget, the state no longer had authority to spend money on nonessential services.

State workers not considered essential to public health and safety were given an unpaid day off. Offices that issue drivers licenses are closed, campers were forced to leave state parks, and roadwork has come to a halt.

State police officers, prison guards, and people who administer welfare benefits reported to work as usual. Those workers are considered critical and will remain on the job no matter what happens.

Gamblers are also in luck. State employees who oversee the computer system for the state's slot machines were scheduled to be furloughed. But Sunday night, a judge granted a request by the owners of five slots parlors to keep the casinos open until a hearing on the matter is held Tuesday.

Unions protested the effect of the shutdown on government employees.

"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," said David Fillman, executive director of Council 13 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The union is challenging the furlough in court, arguing that Rendell had no rational basis for classifying employees as critical and non-critical.

Republican legislative leaders also lashed out at the governor, calling the shutdown unnecessary and accusing Rendell of focusing too much on ancillary issues. The biggest point of controversy: the governor's energy independence strategy, a program designed to create more alternative energy resources in Pennsylvania.

Republican lawmakers object to a tax associated with the plan, saying the state has a $650 million surplus, so there is no need to raise taxes. Republicans and some Democrats accused the governor of holding state employees hostage to get lawmakers to approve the surcharge.

Rendell says he expects the furloughs will only last one day.

"I have reason for optimism" that the two sides will reach agreement, Rendell said at a news conference late Sunday.

But many legislators aren't so sure. After weeks of negotiations, they wonder whether these differences can be resolved in just one day.

With reporting by Jen Rehill of Public Radio Capitol News and the Associated Press.



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