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Pa. lawmakers pass measure to pay workers

Negotiations continue on full budget proposal

Negotiations continue on full budget proposal

August 04, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- Pennsylvania lawmakers on Tuesday passed a measure that will resume pay for nearly 77,000 state workers while the 2009-10 budget debate enters its sixth week after a missed deadline.

The House voted 195-3 Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 850, a $27.3 billion spending plan senators approved in early May. Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell was planning to line-item veto things that don't affect government operations, public health and safety, or workers' salaries.

Franklin County's representatives in the House, Todd Rock and Rob Kauffman, said they voted "yes," but disliked doing so. Kauffman reiterated his complaint that Democrats, and Rendell in particular, created a "crisis" by holding state workers "hostage" using their paychecks.

"I almost felt in a way like (my vote was) playing into this scheme, but it's important state workers are paid again," said Kauffman, R-Franklin/Cumberland.

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"I don't like it. I only voted for it for one reason -- to pay state workers," said Rock, R-Franklin.

State Rep. Dan Moul, R-Adams/Franklin, called Senate Bill 850 an unbalanced bridge budget.

"Every single person in this chamber knows today that this is not a balanced budget," Moul said. "I have to challenge the constitutionality, although I won't make a motion because I do believe that the state workers do need to be paid."

Kauffman and Rock predicted budget negotiations could stall until the state's 67 counties and 500 school districts start having problems paying bills. Rock estimated that could happen in October or November.

"As (Rendell) zeroes these entities out, the question is, 'What is the next crisis?'" Kauffman said.

Legislative leaders will negotiate a full budget proposal, which will be drafted into an amendment, most likely to House Bill 1416, Kauffman said.

"We're going to do the whole process over again," Rock said.

State Sen. Richard Alloway, R-Franklin/York/Adams, said he was glad the House passed a plan with no tax increases and reduced government spending, but he said it should have happened a long time ago. Although Scotland School for Veterans' Children funding was not included in Senate Bill 850, Alloway said the future of the Chambersburg, Pa., boarding school will continue to be negotiated.

"Scotland School is not done yet," he said.

Negotiation efforts -- in public through a House-Senate conference committee and privately at Rendell's official Harrisburg residence -- have accomplished little. If anything, the public statements in recent days suggest frustration has set in and removing state employees from the crossfire could make negotiators less inclined to compromise.

County governments and school districts are scrambling to cope without state funds, a situation likely to worsen in the coming weeks, said Rep. Bryan Barbin.

"Unless a budget is passed within the next few weeks, hospitals, counties, cities, schools and state contractors will run out of money and be forced to lay off employees," said Barbin, D-Cambria. "That will end our economic recovery."

Rendell said he has not determined how many state workers will be laid off in the near future, but it could amount to as many as 800 people.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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