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Pennsylvania governor orders shutdown

Associated Press The Spokesman-Review

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Gov. Ed Rendell late Sunday ordered a range of state government services shut down and placed about a third of the state work force on indefinite unpaid furlough after frantic last-minute negotiations failed to break a budget stalemate.

A judge, however, ordered that the state’s five slots parlors remain open, at least temporarily.

Rendell, appearing outside his Capitol office, said the shutdown would go forward but added that he was optimistic that he and legislators could come to an agreement within a day.

“Let me say to our hardworking and dedicated state employees, I’m sorry we’re here. We worked as hard as we could today to get this done,” Rendell said. But, he said, negotiations and serious consideration of his priorities, which he maintains must be passed along with a state spending plan, began too late.

Today, Pennsylvanians will no longer be able to take driver’s license tests, state-run museums will be shuttered, and casinos will have to stop taking bets. Highway maintenance and a range of permitting and licensing functions will be stopped or severely curtailed, and the lights illuminating the Capitol’s dome are to be turned off.

A Commonwealth Court judge, however, halted the closure of slots parlors at least until a Tuesday hearing, said Doug Harbach, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. State Revenue Department workers who monitor the casinos’ computers were among those ordered furloughed.

Critical services – such as health care for the poor, state police patrols and prisons – will be maintained.

The partial shutdown is the result of a battle of wills between the Democratic governor and the Republicans who control the Senate. Without an approved budget, the state has lost the authority to spend money on nonessential services and employees.

Legislators said an agreement on the $27 billion-plus budget was near, but that disagreements remain over the governor’s other priorities. 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, they said.

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