Pennsylvania Prepares for Government Shutdown

Pennsylvanians will be unable to take a driver's license test or visit a state-run museum starting Monday unless an 11th-hour breakthrough on Sunday ends a budget stalemate that threatens a partial government shutdown.

If Sunday ends without a compromise between Gov. Ed Rendell and the Legislature, 24,000 state workers whose jobs are not deemed to be essential to health and safety will be furloughed without pay at 12:01 a.m. Monday. Critical services — such as health care, state police patrols and prisons — would still be maintained.

At Gifford Pinchot State Park in Lewisberry, 70-year-old retiree Janice Sorgen and her family are among those who will have to vacate the park's 10 cabins and 100 camping spots first thing Monday morning if a deal is not reached.

"To do it in this manner is ridiculous," said Sorgen, who drove 500 miles from Fort Wayne, Ind., for a family vacation. "They can just pay us for driving down here and driving back."

Refunds are available to people who request them, said park manager Bill Rosevear.

The state remained without a budget for an eighth day as a battle of wills dragged on between Rendell, a Democrat, and Republicans in control of the state Senate.

High-level negotiations were being conducted by telephone even as state lawmakers began arriving at the Capitol on Sunday afternoon. A spokesman for House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese said "shuttle diplomacy" was going on among his caucus, Senate Republicans and Rendell's office.

"Right now there's a 50-50 chance that enough progress will be made to avoid the Monday furloughs," spokesman Tom Andrews said.

One Republican senator said he believes an agreement is at hand on the $27 billion budget. But, he added, there has been no resolution to Rendell's other priorities, which include new funding for mass transit and highways, public school programs, and alternative energy, as well as measures to cut health care costs.

Asked about negotiations on the governor's energy plan, Sen. Gibson E. Armstrong said, "That's the problem," and declined to elaborate further.

Both chambers of the Legislature planned to convene in the late afternoon.

Earlier in the day, Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo said that the prospect of avoiding the furloughs remained grim and that the governor would discuss the budget situation after 4 p.m. Sunday.

Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, a Republican, said Rendell is using the threat of furloughs to put pressure on legislators in budget negotiations.

"It comes as somewhat of a surprise that the Republicans have waited until the 7th of July to realize that not having passed a budget has ramifications," Ardo said.

A legal effort by state employees' unions to put furloughs on hold failed Saturday, but a hearing was scheduled for Monday.

A judge was expected to rule later Sunday on a request by Pennsylvania's five slot-machine casinos to prevent the state from shutting them down.