Shutdown moved many to a state of irritation

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Rob Engelhardt, Erie Times News
Tim Norris of Illinois finds the information area of the Welcome Center in North East, Pa., closed yesterday.
By Sara McCune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

From drivers to river rafters to those seeking personal records, people all across the state felt the impact yesterday of Pennsylvania's budget impasse and shutdown of nonessential services.

Gov. Ed Rendell's budget battle with Republicans led the state to furlough 23,562 employees yesterday. Essential services such as state police, welfare offices and prisons continued to operate as normal, but others such as state parks and museums, driver's license centers and highway welcome centers were closed.

Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette
Gwendolyn Harris, of Greensburg, came to the State Office Building, Downtown, to exchange her Ohio driver's license for a Pennsylvania one, but she found the office to be closed.
Click photo for larger image.

"The one day I can take off work, I can't get it done," said Samantha Phillips, who went to the State Office Building, Downtown, looking to renew her driver's license. "There's not even any signs out here telling you you can't renew your license."

Many other people seeking licenses, photo identification cards and birth certificates expressed frustration at the lack of service.

"I have to go to California Tuesday," said Samantha Harris, who was also seeking a renewed driver's license. "I don't know what I'm going to do."

The Carmen family, of Brookline, also took a day off work hoping to get their son's birth certificate. Daniel Carmen needs it to get his passport for a trip to Mexico in a month.

"They told us to mail in a letter and they would send us the birth certificate," said Daniel's mother, Patricia Carmen. "I need it now."

"It's bogus," said Tim Winston, before entering the building. Mr. Winston had wanted to renew his driver's license and minutes later exited the building cursing.

People looking for death certificates of loved ones who died before July 5 also are out of luck until the furloughs end, said Patrick Lanigan, an East Pittsburgh funeral director and board member of the National Funeral Directors Association.

Those looking for death certificates for people who died after July 5 could get them from the Allegheny County register of wills, Downtown, but that office turns the certificates over to the state on the fifth of every month, so certificates for previous deaths would not be available.

Mr. Lanigan said he hadn't had any requests yesterday.

Jerry Mancini, owner of Kennedy School of Driving in Coraopolis, said if the budget didn't get pushed through by today, the Department of Motor Vehicles will not be able to give driver's tests for a while. He said many test sites schedule exams every 15 minutes -- about 40 a day -- Tuesdays and Saturdays.

The next available appointments are in August, though Mr. Mancini said he believes the department will work with students to make sure they can take their tests as soon as possible.

"They may have to double up on personnel or something," he said.

Other people around the State Office Building expressed frustration at the government as well as the furlough.

"I have no faith in the government at this present time," said Baron Rucker, who was seeking unemployment papers and received a form he would have to mail in to get the papers.

"State employees shouldn't suffer because the government can't push the budget through," Sam Goldbronn said on his way out of the building.

At Ohiopyle State Park, Fayette County, the white waters of the Youghiogheny River were running low as nature lovers' annoyance with the state's budget impasse ran high.

"Those greedy politicians need to get their act together," said Robin Means, who with her husband, Joel, owns Ohiopyle Trading Post, which rents rafts and leads guided tours of the Yough's famed rapids. "They don't know how many people they're affecting."

The furloughing of nonessential state workers forced the closing of the park to campers, but Joel Means said his and other rafting businesses hadn't been affected much other than inconveniencing private clients who wanted to run the rapids of the Lower Yough.

Under normal circumstances, before "putting in" not far from the outfitters' operations in Ohiopyle, most private rafters -- those not on guided tours -- pay the state a fee for a bus to pick them up after they "put out" of the river after running the rapids. With that bus out of operation, rafters using that part of the river had to carry their rafts 11/2 miles up a steep slope and transport them themselves.

Trips to the Middle Yough continued unabated yesterday because rental outfits ferry rafters and their rafts.

On weekends, when hundreds upon hundreds of white-water adventurers descend upon Ohiopyle, the state issues permits to private rafters to try to control the traffic on the river. If no park rangers are working this coming weekend, Mr. Means said there could be "chaos."

Mrs. Means added that the legislators should include in their budget some anti-itch lotion for those who visited state parks during the state shutdown.

"The park's rest rooms are closed," she explained with a laugh. "We all think we're going to get poison ivy."


Staff writer Michael A. Fuoco contributed to this story. Sara McCune can be reached at smccune@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1122.


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