2009-07-30 / Local & State

Hospitals, Museums Wait As Pa. Funding Cuts Near

By Marc Levy Associated Press Writer

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) _ When a few top legislators and the governor finally close the doors behind them and hash out differences over how to resolve the state's multibillion-dollar deficit, thousands of others will want to be in the room with them.

The breadth of potential cutbacks to cherished programs and subsidies is breathtaking in this recession-ravaged budget year, precipitating layoffs, belt-tightening and longer waiting lists at everything from veterans' homes to public television stations.

Gov. Ed Rendell's office has been flooded with phone calls, emails and personal visits to a far greater degree this year in response to talk of cuts in the state's approximately $28 billion budget, press secretary Chuck Ardo said.

Even before the state's budget ax falls, many places are cutting back in anticipation of cuts to come.

In Erie, the nonprofit public television station WQLN, which carries shows such as Nova, Sesame Street and Nature, has already laid off five staff members. It also ordered two-week unpaid furloughs for the remaining 25 employees to prepare for a partial loss of its subsidy of about $800,000 a year.

Its costs are already higher, as well, since the Rendell administration recently shut down the Pennsylvania Public Television Network, which helped the state's eight public TV stations save time and money by providing a library of shared programming.

So far, WQLN, which reaches more than 150,000 households in Pennsylvania, has kept its educational development workshops for teachers and childcare providers in the area. If the state eliminates WQLN's entire subsidy, more layoffs will follow, president and general manager Dwight Miller said.

"That's all that's left to cut,'' he said.

Hospitals from Coudersport to Philadelphia are also worrying over the potential loss of money. Some of those dollars support the state's most rural hospitals. Others help pay for services, such as trauma units, that treat a high proportion of the poor and uninsured.

Also on the chopping block could be money to entice managed care organizations to use preventive outreach to keep Medicaid enrollees healthier and, in theory, less costly to taxpayers.

University student tuition bills could rise substantially to fill in for state funding cuts, while museums, historical societies, zoos and more could lose millions in funding that helps to employ staff, keep doors open longer and bring in special exhibits.

Attractions ranging from the Franklin Institute and the late architect Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater to the Tyler Arboretum and Hawk Mountain Sanctuary receive money.

Waiting lists may lengthen for mentally retarded adults trying to find an independent place to live and veterans seeking a bed at the state's six veterans' homes.

Even in government, counties and quasi-independent offices are issuing warnings.

The director of Pennsylvania's fledgling Office of Open Records says budget proposals will gut her office, forcing her to lay off staff members who are already working 12- to 15-hour days to ensure that people have an advocate when they challenge government agencies for public records.

"This is not just cutting money - it's cutting the commitment to ensuring open and honest government,'' Terry Mutchler wrote in a recent editorial in The Patriot-News of Harrisburg.

State Treasurer Robert M. McCord warned that the cuts under consideration to his office would force him to lay off staff, which could lead to payment backlogs.

Schuylkill County is banning travel, conferences and some capital purchases in anticipation of sliding state support for the human services that consume two-thirds of the county's budget. Those services include meals for the elderly, court-ordered counseling for mentally dis- turbed adults and protection for neglected children.

"We realize that there are going to be cuts,'' Schuylkill County Commissioner Mantura Gallagher said. "But even when you hear (about) a cut as little as 2 percent, 2 percent is a significant amount of money in any county's budget.''

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