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Rendell signs Pa. budget

back-pay checks to be mailed by Monday

August 05, 2009

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- About 77,000 Pennsylvania state workers will finally be paid and billions of dollars will become available for welfare checks under a partial budget bill Gov. Ed Rendell signed into law Wednesday.

Back-pay checks for state workers are expected to go out by Monday, although the governor also said hundreds of state workers may soon be laid off. Rendell said between 300 and 800 people will lose their jobs -- the precise figure was expected to be announced Thursday or Friday.

Rendell called the measure he signed "a budget that will send negotiators back to the table to communicate, to compromise and to get real about getting a true budget agreement for Pennsylvania."

Pennsylvania has gone without a comprehensive 2009-10 spending plan since its new fiscal year began July 1. State workers, including the governor, have received partial paychecks and endured payless paydays since the fiscal year began July 1.

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Rendell and his Democratic allies are fighting to protect state programs, most notably education spending, while Republicans are adamantly opposed to balancing the budget by raising the personal income tax or sales tax rate.

The governor Wednesday used his line-item veto to eliminate nearly $13 billion from an already bare-bones spending plan that passed the state Senate nearly three months ago. In a veto message he sent to the Senate, Rendell called the bill "a deeply flawed piece of legislation" that "robs the commonwealth and its citizens of future opportunities."

The $11 billion in spending that survived the governor's veto pen included $5.7 billion for the Department of Public Welfare, $1.6 billion for prisons and nearly $7 million to operate the governor's office.

With the five-week-old state budget impasse expected to continue, Rendell urged legislative negotiators to renew their efforts to come to an agreement. He warned that school districts and local governments are on the verge of running out of money.

But House Republican caucus spokesman Steve Miskin said the Democratic governor's skeleton budget was a move to pressure lawmakers to pass a tax increase. He noted that Rendell approved funds for inmate education programs but not for college grants through the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.

"The keystone of his administration is leverage," Miskin said. "His goal's just to keep pressure or leverage on the Legislature to get his tax increase."

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, in the Capitol to lobby for a citywide sales tax increase and a law to ease pension costs, said that without legislative action he will have to lay off about 3,000 workers and shut down a third of city government this fall.

"What's at stake is literally the future of Philadelphia and, I would say, southeastern Pennsylvania," Nutter said. "It's brutal."

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On the Net:

Pa. budget proposals: http://tinyurl.com/orsbkq

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