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Rendell estimates job cuts

Up to 2,000 state layoffs are possible with program trims to plug a budget hole.

HARRISBURG - Gov. Rendell said yesterday that combined reductions could mean the loss of as many as 2,000 state jobs, the result of budget cuts to deal with the multibillion-dollar deficit.

Rendell told radio station KDKA in Pittsburgh that from 1,000 to 2,000 positions could be eliminated through layoffs and a hiring freeze.

The state employs 78,000 workers, including about 10,000 in the Philadelphia area. The total is down from 82,000 when he took office in 2003, he said.

The employee cuts are among options Rendell is considering to plug a $2.3 billion hole in this year's $28.3 billion budget.

"We are currently identifying programs that no longer make sense, as well as programs that don't make sense in this economy," said Rendell's spokesman, Chuck Ardo. "Once those areas are identified, employees may be laid off or absorbed into other departments."

David Fillman, executive director of Council 13 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents roughly half of all state workers, said the state has been in a "silent furlough" for 20 years as positions go unfilled.

"We are down to bare bones," he said. "The governor should look elsewhere before cutting personnel."

Rendell said last week that he would not propose any increases in the state's sales or personal income taxes in the next fiscal year's budget, but would likely propose limited new taxes or fee increases, among them a first-time tax on smokeless tobacco and a new wellhead tax on oil and gas drilling.

Also, Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said yesterday that the state needed to prepare for potentially larger shortfalls down the road.

At a meeting with reporters, Evans said the state could expect to be as much as $3.2 billion in the hole in fiscal 2009-10, which begins July 1.

"This is far deeper than anything we've ever dealt with before," said Evans, outlining a potential no-growth scenario that could mean state budget deficits into 2012.

Miriam Fox, executive director of the Appropriations Committee, said declining sales-tax revenue, a prolonged period of job cuts, and rising health-care and corrections costs combine to paint a bleak picture in the coming years.

Evans, like Rendell, said he would look at all available options, including funding from the federal economic-stimulus package, drawing from the state's $750 million rainy-day fund, and additional agency budget trimming before proposing any new taxes or tax increases.

"We will be scrubbing every aspect of the budget," he said. "A tax increase should be a last resort."

Rendell is scheduled to make his 2009-10 budget address next Wednesday in the Capitol, one day after the originally scheduled date. Rendell delayed the speech to give Pittsburgh Steelers fans time to return home from Tampa, Fla., after the Super Bowl on Sunday.

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