- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2006

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey’s governor and lawmakers reached a deal yesterday on a new state budget, six days into a state government shutdown that shuttered casinos and threw more than 80,000 people out of work.

Gov. Jon Corzine said the shutdown could end by late today or early tomorrow if budget bills pass the Senate and Assembly. The legislation will be considered today by committees in both houses, allowing final budget votes as soon as late today.

Mr. Corzine cautioned that the budget accord was not cause for celebration, because too many residents’ lives were disrupted.

“We have much more to do in the coming months and years to fix our state’s public finances,” he said.

The deal will increase the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent and use half the $1.1 billion that it will raise to help lower property taxes, which are among the highest in the nation. It allows the possibility that, in future years, the entire increase will go to property tax relief.

“I honestly think that in the end with the agreement that we have reached, our state and more importantly our citizens are all emerging as winners,” Senate President Richard J. Codey said.

Democrats who control the state Assembly had opposed the sales tax increase, which would cost the average New Jersey family an estimated $275 per year.

“This is a very, very fair resolution: good for the state, good for the taxpayers,” said Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr., who had been the main opponent of the sales tax increase.

Republicans, the minority party in New Jersey, criticized the agreement.

“Robbing Peter to pay Paul is not the solution to our property-tax crisis,” said Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance.

Mr. Corzine, a Democrat, shut down nonessential government operations on Saturday after the Legislature failed to pass a budget by the July 1 deadline.

More than 45,000 state workers were furloughed, including those who staff state parks and beaches and the gambling inspectors who keep an eye on the casinos. Without the gambling inspectors, Atlantic City’s dozen casinos had to shut their doors Wednesday, putting 36,000 casino employees out of work.

The casinos stood to lose more than $16 million a day while shut down, and the state would lose an estimated $1.3 million a day in the taxes they normally generate.

“Everybody’s relieved this is going to be behind us,” said Michael Facenda, a spokesman for the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, which opened a $200 million expansion last week and then had to close part of it Wednesday. “We’re anxious to get back to work and show off the product.”

Casino executives were meeting behind closed doors to plan for reopening the halls, but it was not clear when that would occur.

Dealers and other laid-off workers have not been called in yet, pending official word from the state Casino Control Commission on when casinos can reopen, said Alyce Parker, a spokeswoman for Harrah’s Entertainment, which operates four casinos here.

“We’re just happy it’s resolved, and let’s move on,” Miss Parker said.

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