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Transit agency worries about budget stalemate

| Tuesday, July 7, 2009

As days pass without a state budget, it will become increasingly difficult for some local agencies and operations to continue normally without the necessary funding.

Most will be able to get by in the near future, but if the process lasts for longer than a few weeks, some may face cuts in their services and smaller-than-normal paychecks.

"If it drags on ... it could adversely affect us," said Gerry Miller, Town and Country Transit operations manager.

Pennsylvania missed its budget deadline on July 1 for the seventh year, leaving the state without the ability to spend money. Gov. Ed Rendell has proposed state tax increases for the 2009-10 budget, to the opposition of some lawmakers who want spending cuts.

If the budget talks drag on, thousands of state employees could see their paychecks reduced starting July 17. Employees would be paid retroactively once a budget is passed.

Town and Country Transit could face problems soon because the agency does not have any reserve funding after pulling resources together to balance its budget for the 2008-09 fiscal year that ended on June 30.

Instead of getting funding about every 45 days, "we're not going to get anything," Miller said.

"It could be a problem," he said.

Transit agency officials have not discussed a plan in the event a budget is not passed soon, he said.

And if State Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Ford City, is right, it could be awhile. He said a budget is "not even close" to being agreed upon.

"(Rendell)'s not cutting the spending at all," Pyle said. "I don't get it. There's a constitutional obligation here."

"Raising taxes in a recession is just economic suicide," he said.

Pyle said yesterday that lawmakers stopped being paid "five days ago" and other state workers could be facing the same problems if budget talks drag on.

State workers being paid on July 17 will receive about 70 percent of a normal pay for hours worked from June 20 to 30, according to information released from the governor's office. For pay dates on or after July 31, affected employees will not receive any pay until a budget is signed.

Employees set to receive a paycheck on July 24 will be paid for hours worked on June 27 to 30, about 20 percent of a normal pay, according to the information. The only way to avoid a partial pay on that date is for a budget to be signed by July 13.

Harold Swan, acting community relations coordinator for PennDOT's District 10, said projects that started before July 1 will not be affected.

PennDOT has discussed the problems a lack of a budget could pose -- delay of payments or postponements -- to contractors who are scheduled to begin work in the near future, he said.

PennDOT workers' pay will be affected by a budget impasse.

But for now, "everything is business as usual," Swan said.

Local state police will not curtail patrols or the number of troopers on the job, said East Franklin station commander Lt. Tom Dubovi. There will be no changes, he said, except in paychecks if it gets to that point.

Area Agency on Aging director Janet Talerico said she does not expect any cuts in services for senior citizens. A re-evaluation of that plan may be necessary if state spending is not approved later this month, she said.

"We'll probably be good for a short while," she said. "We'll be able to continue services."

Dennis Demangone, administrator of Children, Youth and Family Services, said the lag in passing a state budget will only affect the agency if it continues on for several months.

Armstrong School District director of business affairs Eric Brandenburg said a prolonged budget dispute will "eventually affect every district."

Not receiving summer funding from the state won't be a big problem, but if the school year starts without a budget, that's when things could get "scary," he said. Districts usually receive big chunks of state funding six times per year, he said, the first coming around September and October.

"At this point, we'll hold steady because of the real estate taxes," he said.

Joe Pittman, chief of staff for Sen. Don White, R-Indiana, said the senator is opposed to an income tax increase, adding that the lawmaker believes it is the right move amidst a recession.

The senator has received phone calls from a number of county agencies expressing concern over the budget and the proposed income tax increase, Pittman said.

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