Budget fight shutters Keystone State road services

A nine-day budget showdown between Governor Edward Rendell (D) and Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled legislature is bringing the Commonwealth’s road repair work to a virtual standstill and shuttering the doors on all its highway rest stops

A nine-day budget showdown between Governor Edward Rendell (D) and Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled legislature is bringing the Commonwealth’s road repair work to a virtual standstill and shuttering the doors on all its highway rest stops.

According to the Associated Press (AP), some 24,000 employees in jobs not essential to health and safety – one third of the state’s workforce – are being furloughed without pay, with some 11,000 coming from the ranks of Pennsylvania’s Dept. of Transportation (PennDOT).

“Routine highway maintenance will come to a virtual halt with the exception of those activities that are essential to motorists’ safety,” said PennDOT Secretary Allen Biehler, in a news release issued before the government shutdown went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday July 9.

Biehler said that as a result of the shutdown, PennDOT would only have one or two roadway maintenance crews in each county based on the county’s size. Normally, PennDOT has 7,354 employees involved in day-to-day roadway maintenance activities. Today that number will be cut by 6,404, leaving only 950 employees responsible for maintaining the state’s nearly 40,000 miles of roads.

He added that all highway and bridge design being conduced by PennDOT employees would stop and the state’s 15 highway “Welcome Centers” – otherwise known as rest stops – are now closed. Additionally, the state’s 71 driver license centers and 26 separate photo-only centers are shut down, while mail processing of driver license and motor vehicle renewals and applications have ceased.

According to the Associated Press, a “battle of wills” between Democratic Gov. Rendell and the Republican-led state senate created a deadlock over the Governor’s proposed $27.3-billion budget that’s now lasted nine days into the new fiscal year. Without an approved budget, the state has lost the authority to spend money on nonessential services and employees.

Key sticking points include raising the state’s debt ceiling and an energy plan that Rendell has insisted the Legislature approve before he signs the budget, according to AP. The centerpiece of Rendell’s energy plan would place a surcharge on electricity use for a fund for alternative energy programs and electricity conservation – a surcharge Republican legislators and some Democrats oppose.

David Fillman, executive director of Council 13 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the 14,000 union members among the furloughed state employees should not have been caught in the middle of a political dispute and his organization is in the midst of court appeals to reverse the furlough order.

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