- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 1, 2006

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Jon Corzine shut down the state government yesterday after a deadline to adopt a new balanced budget expired, bringing road construction projects to a halt and furloughing tens of thousands of state employees indefinitely.

State parks, beaches and historic sites were expected to close Wednesday — the day after the July Fourth holiday.

It was a grim climax to a bitter dispute with Mr. Corzine’s fellow Democrats in the Assembly over his plan to increase the sales tax.

“It gives me no joy, no satisfaction, no sense of empowerment to do what I’m forced to do here,” Mr. Corzine said.

About 45,000 state employees were immediately furloughed. The order allows Mr. Corzine to keep 36,000 state employees working without pay. Services such as state police, prisons, mental hospitals and child welfare were to keep operating. Casinos could be forced to close because they require state monitoring, but the casino industry was challenging that in court.

No formal talks between Mr. Corzine and legislators were scheduled yesterday, but Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr., a Democrat, called the Assembly Budget Committee back to the Statehouse for a meeting at 10 a.m. today.

“Committee members should expect to work Sunday through Monday so we can bring a satisfactory end to this crisis,” Mr. Roberts said.

The dispute centers on Mr. Corzine’s determination to raise the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent to help close a $4.5 billion budget deficit.

The governor sees the increase as a vital step toward providing reliable annual revenue, but most Democrats in the Assembly — the lower house of the state Legislature — and several Senate Democrats say it is unnecessary. Led by Mr. Roberts, they offered $741 million in spending cuts and $917 million in other tax increases to avoid a sales-tax increase, but Mr. Corzine rejected many of their ideas.

Opponents have questioned the need for a sales-tax increase, predicting voter backlash and demanding that any increase be reserved for property-tax reform.

Mr. Corzine complained that budget efforts “have not resulted in the sort of responsible plan the public has a right to expect.”

The shutdown marks the first time the state government has had to close because of a budget dispute.

“What’s happening in the Statehouse is shameful,” said Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, a Republican.

The state Constitution requires a balanced budget by July 1, but the deadline has been missed four times in five years. Nothing happened when deadlines were missed before, but the state never went past the morning of July 2 without an adopted budget. Without one, the state has no authority to spend money. The shutdown lasts until a budget agreement is signed.

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