- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 2, 2006

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Atlantic City’s casinos were ordered to close Wednesday, the latest casualty of a state government shutdown that entered its second day yesterday after the Legislature failed to adopt a budget by its Saturday deadline.

The head of the Casino Control Commission ordered gaming in Atlantic City to cease at 8 a.m. Wednesday if New Jersey fails to enact a budget by then.

Atlantic City’s 12 casinos, which require state monitoring, have waged a court battle to remain open, and an appeals court was weighing the matter yesterday. There was no word on when a ruling would be made, courts spokeswoman Winnie Comfort said.

Gov. Jon Corzine said yesterday that there was “no immediate prospect of a budget.” State parks, beaches and historic sites also were expected to shut down Wednesday.

If the casinos shut down, the state would lose an estimated $2 million in tax revenue each day they stayed closed. Republican Assembly member Francis Blee, whose district includes the casinos, said it was important for them to remain open.

“We will have tens of thousands of individuals, real people, that are going to be hurt by this,” he said. “There will be breadwinners who are not bringing home a paycheck.”

Mr. Corzine shut down nonessential government services Saturday after the Legislature failed to adopt a budget. Budget talks became heated this year as the governor, a Democrat, proposed increasing the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent to help overcome a $4.5 billion budget deficit.

Most Democrats in the Assembly and several Democrats in the Senate oppose the sales-tax increase, fearing voter backlash. Assembly Democrats proposed a series of alternatives, some of which Mr. Corzine accepted, but the sides remained $1 billion apart as the budget deadline passed.

About 45,000 state employees were furloughed Saturday. Mr. Corzine’s order allows him to keep 36,000 state employees working without pay. Services such as state police, prisons, mental hospitals and child welfare were to keep operating.

The lottery and road construction projects were among the first to close. A state appellate panel yesterday ordered horse tracks closed at the end of business tomorrow. It was not known whether the horse-racing industry would file further appeals to keep harness and thoroughbred tracks open past tomorrow.

Mr. Corzine was expected to meet in private yesterday with Assembly and Senate leaders.

The Senate is scheduled to meet today, and Senate President Richard J. Codey has told senators to be ready to stay in session until a budget is adopted.

“Let’s get on with getting this problem solved,” Mr. Corzine said while touring a state police dispatch center in Hamilton yesterday.

Republicans, the minority party in both chambers, have expressed frustration.

“I’m appalled that this reached this stage,” Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance said. “It is very unfortunate that the Democratic governor and Democratic majorities in the Legislature could not achieve a budget in place by June 30, and now all the people of New Jersey suffer as a result.”

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