HARRISBURG - Gov. Rendell yesterday upped the ante in his bid to balance the state budget, saying that without a table-games bill he would have to close the State Museum of Pennsylvania and some state parks in addition to laying off at least 1,000 more government employees.
Rendell last week said layoffs of 1,000 more state workers were "imminent" if no gambling bill was on his desk by Jan. 8.
The bill - the final unresolved part of the state budget the governor signed in October after a 101-day impasse - would bring in $250 million in license fees and taxes that Rendell said is necessary to keep the government running.
But lawmakers broke for the Christmas holiday without resolving differences over competing bills in each chamber.
When asked at a news conference yesterday what he thought the chances were of passage of a gambling bill, Rendell said "nil."
"I'm not sure we will ever have a table-games bill," said Rendell.
But State Rep. Dante Santoni (D., Berks), chief architect of the House table-games bill, said that legislative staffers were meeting this week on the issue and that he was optimistic the two chambers could resolve their differences when they return Jan. 5.
"I have more hope maybe than that," said Santoni of the governor's remarks. "I'm optimistic, but I do think time is being wasted."
The gambling expansion would allow games such as blackjack and roulette at slots parlors.
But the House and Senate - and to some degree factions within the chambers - cannot agree on several issues, chief among them whether to add another resort-casino license to the 14 slots licenses already authorized, and how to distribute gambling proceeds in Philadelphia.
A provision in the Senate bill removes Philadelphia's local share - 2 percent tax on table games - from the city's general fund and instead reserves it for state-administered grants.
That's an estimated $3.6 million a year, half of which would be reserved for entities within 1.5 miles of either of the city's two planned casinos, SugarHouse and Foxwoods.
The other half would be available to agencies citywide, and all of it would be administered by the state Department of Community and Economic Development.
Rep. Michael O'Brien (D., Phila.), who offered a similar provision in the House version of the bill, joined other Philadelphia Democrats - including Sen. Larry Farnese and Reps. Babette Josephs and Curtis Thomas, all of whose districts would benefit from the Senate bill - at a news conference in City Hall yesterday to support the Senate proposal.
"The impacted communities need to be inoculated from pending harm" of the casinos, O'Brien said.
But Mayor Nutter opposes removing any distribution of gambling funds from city control and made his wishes known last week when Rendell called him from a meeting with the General Assembly's four caucus leaders.
"I said I want the dollars to come to the city - what else am I supposed to say?" Nutter said yesterday. "Given our financial picture, I cannot support any diversion of revenues that are to go anywhere but to the city's general fund."
O'Brien predicted that the House would further amend the Senate bill, sending it back for a conference committee, and further delay.
Without the infusion from new licenses and with revenue collections still down by $200 million, Rendell said he had no choice but to take further action to reduce government expenses.
"I wouldn't be asking our secretaries to go through the exercise of preparing for layoffs if I had confidence" that the House and Senate could reach agreement on a bill, he said.
Rendell also said he might be forced to close state parks and the State Museum and to eliminate some discretionary grants.
The State Museum of Pennsylvania, founded in 1905 and now located next to the Capitol, houses a planetarium and hosts traveling exhibits on a variety of subjects. But the heart of its collection - and mission - is Pennsylvania history told through a vast array of artifacts from the prehistoric period to the modern era.
"It's the only museum in the state whose subject is the state," said Barbara Franco, executive director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
Last month the museum laid off 85 employees, or one-third of its staff - the highest percentage of any agency - as part of administration-wide reductions. It also instituted admission fees and reduced hours in response to budget cuts.
Rendell's announcement of the possible museum closure was news to director Jack Leighow yesterday. He shook his head and said the museum was still trying to come to terms with the massive layoffs.
"The employees who are still here are rallying, but it's hard," he said.
Nearly 800 state government jobs have been cut this year as a result of the budget crisis, and an additional 1,800 open state jobs went unfilled. The state currently employs 77,701 people.