Rendell orders partial government shutdown in Pa.

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — 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.

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 told a news conference. 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.

“We didn’t start early enough,” Rendell said. “I think everybody was at fault for not starting early enough.”

Without a compromise between Gov. Ed Rendell and the Legislature, 24,000 state workers whose jobs are not deemed to be essential to health and safety were furloughed without pay at 12:01 a.m. today.

Pennsylvanians will be unable to take driver’s license tests, state-run museums will be shuttered and casinos will have to stop taking bets today. Highway maintenance and a range of permitting and licensing functions will be stopped or severely curtailed, and the lights illuminating the Capitol’s dome were to be turned off.

A battle of wills between the Democratic governor and the Republicans who control the Senate has created a deadlock lasting eight days into the new fiscal year. Without an approved budget, the state has lost the authority to spend money on nonessential services and employees.

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

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