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Rendell ax falls on slew of programs

HARRISBURG - Zoos and children's museums. American battle monuments overseas. Civil Air Patrol search-and-rescue missions. A registered nurse who teaches Amish schoolchildren about farm safety.

HARRISBURG - Zoos and children's museums. American battle monuments overseas. Civil Air Patrol search-and-rescue missions. A registered nurse who teaches Amish schoolchildren about farm safety.

All are victims of the budgetary ax Gov. Rendell wielded while crafting his proposed $29 billion budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year. The cuts, many affecting the Philadelphia region, are inevitable in order to deal with a merciless fiscal crunch in a downtrodden economy, Rendell said.

Some programs may get their funding restored as the administration and legislature barter over every line in Rendell's budget in coming months.

But others, the governor warned, will be wiped off the books.

"I fully recognize and regret the hardship that these cuts will cause, but we have no choice. The crisis demands that we make these cuts," Rendell said grimly while delivering his budget speech Wednesday to a joint session of the legislature.

In all, Rendell is proposing to eliminate funding for 101 programs, many of which he said were not essential to protecting the health, welfare and safety of the state - the funding barometer in these tough economic times.

Some of those 101 programs provide so-called WAM (walking-around money) for pet projects that legislators want for their districts. One example of a WAM getting slashed in Rendell's proposed budget: $2 million for the Philadelphia Orchestra.

J. Edward Cambron, the orchestra's marketing vice president, said support from the state, "while generous, varies each year."

He said the orchestra was formulating its 2009-10 budget and "anticipating that we could have some issues with state funding."

Leaders of programs that are getting eliminated statewide say that while their constituencies and their voices may be specialized or small, they provide valuable services that are no less worthy of state assistance. Among them: almost $3.8 million in grants to help museums, historical societies and zoos across the state with their operating budgets as well as special projects or exhibitions.

In the last year, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission distributed more than 160 such grants to museums and societies, said Barbara Franco, the commission's executive director.

In Philadelphia, those grants go to Eastern State Penitentiary ($23,400), the Please Touch Museum ($34,000), the Independence Seaport Museum ($97,000), and the Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia ($25,000).

"We've used those grants for everything from educational programs to exhibitions," said Chris Davis, Atwater Kent's deputy director. "It's a devastating blow to us to lose that money."

Arts groups are hardly babes in the woods when it comes to government funding. Many hire lobbyists to press their concerns in Harrisburg, and understand that items proposed for cuts might end up not cut at all.

"Any government funding - it's a process that involves a lot of different decision makers, and it's a political and negotiated process, and it seldom turns out to be exactly what you thought it would be going into it," said Robert Capanna, executive director of the Settlement Music School, which is marked down for a cut of $225,000.

"Once you get beyond the public posturing, the governor and the legislature are very interested in giving to worthwhile organizations."

Still, Capanna recognizes that the school may have to look elsewhere to cover the state's $225,000 if it is to reach the $4 million a year it raises from corporations, foundations and individuals.

"The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has been terrifically generous, but it's hard in tough times like this to say, 'They can't cut us. They have to cut someone else.' We all have to share the pain," he said.

Also being zeroed out: $74,000 in grants for preserving and maintaining American battle monuments for Pennsylvania service members who died on foreign soil.

There are two such monuments for World War I service members in France, according to Mike Conley, spokesman for the American Battle Monuments Commission, which Pennsylvania pays to maintain the monuments.

Conley said that there was some money left over from previous years to continue the monuments' upkeep for a while - but that more funding would be needed to complete extensive repairs at one of them.

"I don't want people to think that the commonwealth is abandoning its monuments," said Conley. "But at some point, it would be advisable for them to continue sending funds for the types of services we need to carry out to keep them in tip-top shape."

Funding for Civil Air Patrol missions is also at stake.

The Civil Air Patrol is an auxiliary of the Air Force, and its wing in Pennsylvania was allocated just under $492,000 last year to train and dispatch its civilian members in search-and-rescue missions, among other programs. Losing that funding would force the patrol to scale back some operations, officials said.

"The general public may agree that some of the programs getting cut don't fall under the purview of government, but public safety does," said Lt. Col. Bob Meinert, executive director of the patrol's Pennsylvania wing. "That's what we do."

Then there is farm safety.

That program, run by the state Department of Agriculture, receives $110,000, and it funds, among other items, a registered nurse who goes into Amish communities to teach farm safety. The nurse speaks primarily to children in schoolhouses, but their parents are often in the back of the room listening in, said Cheryl Cook, the Agriculture Department's deputy secretary for marketing and economic development.

"She teaches everything from CPR to how to read the ears of your horse" to determine its mood, Cook said. "She does wonderful work."

The state's eight public-television stations, which as noncommercial entities rely primarily on member support and grants, are also seeing their state funding wiped away.

Grants represent as much as 45 percent of the budget for some stations, said Tony May, chairman of Pennsylvania Public Television Network. WHYY TV12 in Philadelphia received more than $1 million in state funding toward its $28 million operating cost last year, said the station's executive vice president, Kyra McGrath.

"That's a big hit," she said.

WYBE-MiND TV in Philadelphia, which provides foreign-language, arts and children's programming and relies on state funding for roughly 40 percent of its budget, would likely face deeper fiscal trouble.

"The proposed cuts are pretty negative," said Howard Blumenthal, chief executive officer of Independence Media, which operates the station.

"Nobody wants to see public television suffer. It serves an important use," he said.