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Travelers, local workers affected by Pa. furloughs

July 10, 2007|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Suz Scalia drove from Waynesboro, Pa., to Fuller Lake State Park in Cumberland County on Monday only to find it was closed due to the furlough of 24,000 government workers, including park employees.

On the way back, she drove her Jeep through the parking lot of the park ranger office at Caledonia State Park, which also was closed.

"Sorry for the inconvenience. State parks are closed until the budget passes," read the sign on the door.

"I just wanted to sit by a lake and read a book," said Scalia, who added that she might head back to Waynesboro and Northside Pool.

Gov. Ed Rendell late Sunday ordered a number of services shut down across the state due to the stalemate with the state House and Senate over the 2007-08 budget, furloughing about a third of state employees.

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Legislators reached a deal Monday night that would end the furloughs, Sen. Vincent Fumo, D-Philadelphia, said.

Rendell's move made Pennsylvania less welcoming for travelers and tourists, with state parks, museums and welcome centers closed Monday.

William Callahan stopped at the Interstate 81 Welcome Center in State Line, Pa., and was questioning how long it would take to get to New York.

"I was going to ask over there, but I can't," he said, pointing to the dark offices.

The bathrooms remained open, and travelers were loading up on free brochures. Linda Cain, who had heard about the furlough, grabbed a few on her journey from North Carolina.

"I'm just sad to see it happen that the state can't work out the problem," she said.

At the PennDOT Photo & Exam Center on Mill Road in Chambersburg, a couple of motorists drove up, unaware that that office, too, was closed.

"It's annoying because I'm new to the area," said Stacy Hollenbaugh of Fayetteville, Pa. Hollenbaugh got married recently and needed to have her name changed on her driver's license, which she needs to get her nursing license updated, she said.

"I had no idea. I was like, 'Oh really?'" when another person drove up and told her of the furlough.

"I've got to get my license transferred from West Virginia and to my married name," said Kristi Mills of Shade Gap, Pa. Her husband told her the drive to Chambersburg would be easier than going to the photo and exam center in Huntingdon County, she said.

A press release last week from the Department of Transportation stated that residents could still renew driver's licenses and registrations and change addresses online at www.dmv.state.pa.us or by visiting an online messenger service. The release stated that nearly 11,000 PennDOT employees would be furloughed, including 6,404 road maintenance workers.

"We have some office staff. Minimal staff, really," said Dave Rock, highway maintenance manager for PennDOT in Franklin County. "And we have enough guys in the field for one crew."

That reduced the number working Monday from 90 to a dozen, Rock said. Work was scheduled Monday for paving of Pa. 433, stormwater pipe replacement on the Cheesetown-Edenville Road and shoulder cutting in South Mountain, Pa., he said.

"A day is a lot in our business," Rock said.

"Being from Pittsburgh, it's going to affect a lot of things," said Marlyce Toth, who stopped by the interstate welcome center. She expressed concerns about the city's public transportation system.

This is different from a 1991 budget impasse when workers stayed on the job, but saw their paychecks delayed for a few weeks, Rock said.

"It boils down to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act," Rock said. This time around, he said, "you can't ask the employees to work without paying them."

Employees who are called upon to keep roads open during snow storms, floods and wind storms also bristled at the idea that they were considered nonessential, Rock said.

"That's a hard thing to swallow. ... It's a pride issue," he said.

The Franklin County CareerLink office on Norland Avenue was open, as was the Department of Public Welfare office in the next building, although an employee there said two employees of the state Inspector General's Office were furloughed. State liquor stores also remained open.

Legislative assistants at Kauffman's Chambersburg office and that of state Sen. Terry Punt, R-Franklin, each said the number of budget-related calls they received Monday was about 15.

Kauffman said last week that the budget roadblock was over Rendell's energy, mass transit and education initiatives. The initiatives are off-budget and should be voted on separately, but Rendell is holding the budget hostage to those initiatives, he said.

Staff writer Jennifer Fitch contributed to this story.

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