2009-08-13 / Local & State

Pa. Lays Off 255 As Rendell Advocates Spending

MARC LEVY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

HERSHEY, Pa. - Pennsylvania officials began notifying more than 250 state employees Monday that they are losing their jobs, as a stubborn budget stalemate driven by the recession and partisanship threatened to exact a higher toll.

The layoffs are fallout from a multibillion-dollar deficit that has prevented passage of a complete budget more than six weeks into the new fiscal year. In the meantime, the state government is running on a barebones budget approved last week that excludes funds for many social services, public schools and other vital programs.

In Hershey, Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell advocated increased state funding for autism research and services, arguing that the smaller increase advanced by legislative Republicans would hurt families who need help caring for autistic children.

"These cuts are debilitating. These cuts strip away everything we should be doing as a society," Rendell said at a news conference at Hershey Medical Center.

On Monday, managers were to start delivering the bad news to 255 employees in jobs that are being eliminated, although many of them can bump coworkers who have less seniority. Laid-off employees would work their final day on Friday and receive an additional 10 days' pay.

Rendell said the initial layoffs were fewer than he had projected earlier because of attrition and retirements, but he warned that there may be more layoffs, depending on a final budget agreement.

The $12.8 billion budget Rendell signed last week, five weeks late, includes $1.8 billion in federal stimulus money.

It ensures that paychecks will flow to tens of thousands of state employees and sustains programs that include state prisons and healthcare for the poor, disabled and elderly. But Rendell vetoed nearly $13 billion endorsed by Republicans for social services, school subsidies and more in an attempt to press GOP lawmakers into accepting a tax increase that would allow more than $28 billion in overall spending.

Last year's authorized spending level was $28.3 billion.

With budget negotiations at a standstill, Rendell has scheduled a slew of public events to pressure the GOP and attacked the Senate's Republican majority for moving too slowly on a bill to help Philadelphia fill a giant budget deficit.

Without the help, Mayor Michael Nutter says he must order deep service cuts and layoffs.

The bill would allow Philadelphia to wipe out a projected five-year, $700 million deficit by allowing the city to raise its 7 percent sales tax by another penny on the dollar and defer city payments into the pension fund. It passed the Democraticled House last week.

Senate Republicans say they plan to hold at least one hearing on the bill and explore whether they can expand it to address the concerns of other counties dealing with similar pension and revenue problems.

If the bill is not enacted by Saturday, the city must submit a new five-year balanced budget to its financial overseer, the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, by Aug. 31.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, insisted that he is moving quickly on the bill, and called the Aug. 15 deadline an arbitrary date set by PICA that he plans to ask the agency to postpone.

PICA's chairman, James Eisenhower, said the date was not arbitrary, and was selected with the city's financial goals in mind.

A spokeswoman for Nutter said layoffs would not occur until Sept. 30, but the city must put the wheels into motion Aug. 15 because of civil services rules. Delaying the layoffs past then without legislative approval of the pension and sales tax bill would risk the city's solvency, spokeswoman Maura Kennedy said.

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