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Pennsylvania braces for government shutdown; parks would close

Published On: Sep 27 2013 05:57:04 PM CDT
Independence Hall, Philadelphia
PHILADELPHIA -

The threat of a partial government shutdown loomed over Pennsylvania on Friday, with national parks announcing they will close unless the budget impasse in Washington is resolved and tens of thousands of federal workers who live and work in the state facing the prospect of furlough.

The Democratic-led Senate approved legislation that would prevent government agencies from shutting their doors next week, but it faced an uncertain fate in the GOP-controlled House. Pennsylvania's senators voted along party lines, with Democrat Bob Casey supporting the temporary funding measure and his Republican counterpart, Pat Toomey, voting against.

As Congress prepared to work through the weekend, state officials said they were confident that Pennsylvania could weather a partial, temporary shutdown of the federal government.

"We project that we're going to have enough money on hand to continue our spending on federal programs without interruption. We will obviously keep an eye on what's going on in Washington as well as our cash position with respect to those federal programs," said Jay Pagni, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania budget office.

State tax collections, though, could take a hit. Federal employees who are furloughed under a shutdown typically receive back pay, but there's no guarantee that would happen this time, according to a Congressional Research Service report released this week. Pennsylvania counts about 71,000 federal employees.

"We can't do any modeling until we know how many people (would be told to stay home), where they are, what functions they perform, how long the impacts are going to be. We don't have any of that detail at this point," said Elizabeth Brassell of the state Department of Revenue.

A shutdown would most immediately be visible at popular national parks like Philadelphia's Independence National Historical Park, home of the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and other famous landmarks, which would be closed to visitors for the duration. About 3.5 million people visit the park each year.

"Day use visitors will be instructed to leave the park immediately," said a contingency plan released by the National Park Service on Friday.

Other federal agencies also released their shutdown plans.

The Environmental Protection Agency's regional office in Philadelphia, for example, would be closed to most of its employees, except for those involved in shutting down systems or tasked with emergency cleanups.

Government functions that involve national security, protection of life and property, and benefits payments under entitlement programs like Social Security are exempt from the shutdown and would go on as usual.

Toomey said he's hopeful that Congress will ultimately avoid a shutdown. But Pittsburgh-based U.S. Attorney David Hickton was concerned enough about the possibility Friday that he canceled a law enforcement conference scheduled for next week.

"We have no choice," Hickton said in a statement. "The negative impact that budget issues and a potential shutdown are having on law enforcement and public safety is real."