Closed Pa. parks irk, surprise sightseers

A budget deal to end the
furloughs and closings was reached late Monday night.



PORTERSVILLE, Pa. — Boaters and swimmers came one by one to Pennsylvania’s Moraine State Park, and all had to be turned away.

It was a reality around Pennsylvania on Monday as a one-day partial government shutdown took effect because of a budget stalemate. Gov. Ed Rendell and state legislators reached a deal late Monday to end the impasse and the 24,000 furloughs of state workers.

But earlier Monday, more than a dozen vehicles were turning away at one point late in the morning at Moraine. The would-be park-goers said they were unaware of the closing linked to the fiscal stalemate.

“It’s a hot day, and we want to go swimming,” said Chuck Jones of Ellwood City, who arrived with two youngsters. “Now I’ve got to take them to a public pool.”

The furloughed workers were from state parks to driver’s license centers across the state.

Some Moraine visitors, like Jay Tindall of Harmony, decided to take their chances and drive around the initial barriers, only to be stopped by larger ones inside the park.

“I live 15 minutes from here. I do my physical therapy in the lake everyday,” said Tindall, who had his dog, two children and a visitor from Puerto Rico in the truck.

Nearby McConnell’s Mill State Park in Lawrence County was eerily quiet Monday morning. No one tried to bypass the orange cone barriers in the parking lots and hiking trails.

Signs posted at both parks state that the “parks are temporarily closed due the furlough of state employees. Re-opening is expected shortly after the state budget passes.”

Local legislators

Before the deal was reached, State Rep. Chris Sainato of New Castle, D-9th, and state Rep. Mark Longietti of Farrell, D-7th, said they believed significant progress had been made Monday afternoon.

Both blamed the Republican-controlled Senate for the delays.

“There are no new taxes in this budget,” Sainato said. “The Senate is being very difficult.”

Sainato explained that the majority parties negotiate the budget. Democrats are the majority in the state House of Representatives and Republicans the majority in the state Senate.

Senator’s view

State Sen. Gerald LaValle of Rochester, D-47th, said the cause of the stalemate wasn’t necessarily the Republican senators.

As acting chairman of the state Senate appropriations committee, LaValle is part of all formal budget negotiations and said there were nonmonetary issues that have muddied the waters.

“When you have a $650 million surplus, there is no reason not to put a budget out on time,” he said.

LaValle said most of the stumbling blocks pertained to nonmonetary issues that Gov. Ed Rendell attached to the budget, such as an energy independence bill. There are still other issues the governor has proposed, including a ban on smoking in public places and economic development funding, that have also run into opposition.

The formal budget committee hasn’t met since last Friday, but the governor’s representatives have met with specific groups, LaValle said.

Any agreement will take several days to formalize, leaving furloughed workers without paychecks for an even longer period, he noted.

State Sen. Bob Robbins of Greenville, R-50th, who is the majority party caucus secretary, could not be reached Monday to comment.

Few complaints, so far

Complaints about the furloughs were few Monday, the Lawrence and Mercer county lawmakers said. But Sainato, LaValle and Longietti each were frustrated by the situation.

“They should not be used as a pawn in this situation,” Sainato said of the out-of-work state employees.

Charles Kniess of Zelienople blamed Rendell for the situation.

“He wants all these new taxes,” Kniess said.

Kniess was among those who got turned away Monday morning at Moraine State Park.

He had gone to the lake to work on his boat, which would not start last week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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