Residents, businesses held breath as they awaited word

State took steps to get ready for a shutdown

By David Abel and Todd Wallack
Globe Staff / April 9, 2011

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If it wasn’t quite a shot heard around the world, it certainly got the attention of local leaders and fittingly became one of the first casualties of the looming shutdown of the federal government, which was apparently averted late last night.

As thousands of federal workers and the millions of people who rely on them awaited word yesterday about whether a political standoff over the budget would lead to the first federal shutdown in 15 years, Concord officials canceled today’s annual commemoration of the battle between Colonial and British soldiers at Meriam’s Corner that helped spark the Revolutionary War.

The commemoration was scheduled to take place at the Minute Man National Historical Park, one of hundreds of historic sites around the country that was slated to close in the event of a government shutdown.

“It’s really a shame that so many visitors won’t be able to experience this,’’ said Nancy Nelson, superintendent of the Minute Man National Historical Park, where 39 rangers, administrative personnel, and other workers waited anxiously for news about whether they would have to forgo their paychecks. “It’s disappointing and a great loss for the visitors around the country and the globe who come here to get a full understanding of the events that set our nation’s struggle for liberty in motion.’’

The looming prospect of a shutdown kept many of the state’s 65,000 federal employees on tenterhooks yesterday. Officials from the Springfield Armory National Historic Site to the Internal Revenue Service at the John F. Kennedy Federal Building in Boston worried about whether they would be able to make their mortgage payments and have enough to feed their families.

State officials said as much as they feared the federal government’s closing, they believed the impact on the state would be limited, so long as a shutdown did not persist for too long.

“From a state budget perspective, we have done a lot of work to try to prepare for a shutdown and to understand what the impact would be,’’ said Jay Gonzalez, secretary of the Executive Office for Administration and Finance.

Still, a shutdown would have had significant effects on state residents.

“We’re talking about parks closing, subsidies for students not coming in to the universities who rely on those payments, businesses who won’t be able to get their loans, mortgage assistance that may not be paid, and more,’’ Gonzalez said, before the tentative agreement was reached.

More concerning, he said, was what any ultimate compromise would mean in terms of the billions of dollars in expected budget cuts. “That really does worry us,’’ he said.

As they waited for midnight, when the shutdown was to take effect, state officials said some of the largest development projects in Massachusetts were at risk of facing delays, including a $1.5 billion effort to redevelop the South Weymouth Naval Air Station and another $1.3 billion development at Assembly Square in Somerville.

An official in Governor Deval Patrick’s economic development office said the projects in Weymouth and Somerville both covering huge tracts of land rely in part on proposed rail and bus improvements being reviewed by federal regulators. A prolonged shutdown could have caused those reviews to last longer than expected.

There were also worries that a shutdown could also force the Federal Housing Administration to suspend new home loan guarantees, which could lead private mortgage lenders to suspend new home loan closings. That would have been another blow to the already shaky housing sector, since housing administration loans make up 30 percent of the market.

Small business owners worried that they could have trouble receiving new government-backed loans: The Small Business Administration would have to suspend approval of business loan guarantees and direct loans to small businesses, further stifling the economic recovery.

Officials at Rockland Trust, a major local provider of Small Business Administration loans, worried that some could be delayed. In some cases, such as a real estate loan that must be a completed by a certain date, deals could be canceled if the shutdown lasts beyond that point, they said.

At TD Bank, officials were concerned that they would not be able to approve new Small Business Administration loans. “Obviously that would have to stop for a while,’’ said Mark C. Crandall, regional president for TD Bank.

At universities and hospitals that receive federal grants, officials worried about the consequences to vital clinical trials.

Porter Briggs, head of A Briggs Passport and Visa Expeditors, based in Washington, D.C., estimates that his firm received 140 to 150 calls a day from customers worried about what will happen to their pending passport applications. A Briggs works with passport agencies in several cities, including Boston, and handles about 4,000 inquiries daily.

“We get calls literally every day from someone who has had a family member or friend who has died, and they need a passport to go pick up the body or attend a funeral, and they’re just going to be out of luck,’’ Briggs said. “It’s kind of like the ‘Twilight Zone.’ We don’t know what to do. But people are asking us.’’

The concerns, however, were felt most acutely among federal employees.

At the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, where thousands of people from around the world flock every year to see the muskets, pistols, and machine guns that enabled the United States to become a military power, officials said all but one of their 18 employees would stop being paid in the event of a shutdown.

“It would certainly create hardship,’’ said Michael Quijano-West, superintendent of the Springfield Armory, which was created in 1794 by George Washington to build weapons to fight the British. “If you don’t receive a paycheck, how are you going to pay your bills?’’

Erin Ailworth, Casey Ross, and Jenifer McKim of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Jose Martinez contributed to this report.