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Pa. layoffs loom as Congress nears vote on aid

August 03, 2010

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- Pennsylvania's state and local governments would be forced to lay off a combined 12,500 public employees, including teachers, police officers and firefighters, if Congress doesn't send the state more recession-related aid, Gov. Ed Rendell warned Tuesday.

The Democratic governor has taken the lead in recent weeks to rally support for the federal bill, scheduled for a key Senate vote Wednesday.

Republicans oppose the measure, saying the price tag would add to the nation's growing debt. Democrats insist the proposed aid would be covered by cutting expenses and closing tax loopholes. They say that without the aid, many more Americans would be sent to the unemployment line.

"We're fighting to keep good jobs, to keep the economy rolling in the right direction," Rendell said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. "Stand up and be counted for the American economy."

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The $26 billion bill would provide a six-month extension of federal stimulus aid to states and schools.

The Pennsylvania budget relies on $850 million in federal stimulus aid. The state-aid bill before the Senate promises $600 million for Pennsylvania, leaving Rendell to deal with a shortfall of about $250 million.

The bill also promises about $378 million to Pennsylvania's school districts, which are already laying off teachers or closing buildings because anemic tax collections hurt by the recession.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said Tuesday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was "very optimistic" about securing the 60 votes necessary to ensure its passage. A spokesman for Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said it was unclear whether any Republicans would join Democrats in supporting the measure.

If a Senate vote fails, Rendell said he will have to balance the state budget by cutting subsidies to public schools and county-run human services. He said that means the likely layoff of 4,000 state employees, 3,000 teachers and other school employees and more than 5,500 local and county employees, such as caseworkers, police officers and firefighters.

Previously, Rendell warned of 20,000 layoffs. He said Tuesday he arrived at the lower figure after receiving estimates from school districts, counties and municipalities.

The governor has said that even if the bill passes, he would be forced to lay off some government workers to balance the $28 billion recession-bitten budget passed by the Legislature five weeks ago.

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