All Night Budget Talks In New Jersey?

Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police Colonel Rick Fuentes, left, talks with New Jersey Homeland Security Director Richard L. Canas, center, and Gov. Jon Corzine during a tour of the New Jersey Communications Center in Hamilton, N.J. on Sunday, July 2, 2006. (AP Photo/Tim Larsen)
AP Photo
New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine prepared for a full night of budget negotiations Sunday as state leaders struggled to end a government shutdown that threatened to become more inconvenient and evident to the public as each day went by.

"I'm prepared to stay 24 hours to get this done," Corzine said Sunday, with the shutdown crisis entering its second day. "The longer this goes on the more the general public will become aware."

Sunday marked the first full day since Corzine closed state government amid a budget impasse with fellow Democrats in the Assembly. The snarl forced the state to miss its July 1 deadline to adopt a new budget, leaving the state with no means to spend money.

But with most state services typically closed on any Sunday, residents had yet to begin seeing the full effect of a closure, beyond an inability to buy lottery tickets. Pending court disputes kept casino gambling and horse racing active.

However, if the shutdown drags on, Corzine said services funded with state aid, such as prescription drug assistance and hospitals, will start to get hit. Parks, beaches, historic sites and possibly casinos also may close in the coming days. Courts, motor vehicle offices and inspection stations will be closed on Monday.

The horse racing industry won a reprieve late Saturday when a state appellate court judge issued an order allowing them to temporarily continue operations. The state racing commission was told to file its response by 2:30 p.m. Sunday and the matter will then be considered by the full three-judge panel.

Assemblyman Frank Blee was worried about the consequences of closing Atlantic City casinos and putting 50,000 people out of work.

"All because a couple of guys up here want to play games," said Blee, R-Atlantic.

Corzine was expected to meet in private Sunday afternoon with top Assembly and Senate leaders in the governor's mansion in Princeton Township, rather than the public Statehouse.

But besides arranging the meeting and key lawmakers gathering in the state capitol, no apparent progress had been made in the dispute that centers on Corzine's proposal to increase the state's sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent to help overcome a $4.5 billion budget deficit.

"There is no immediate prospect of a budget," Corzine said Sunday as he toured a state police dispatch center in Hamilton, taking time to ask each dispatcher whether the shutdown was affecting operations.

Kurt Aufschneider, executive director of statewide transportation operations, told Corzine the state hadn't yet had problems with slowly closing road construction projects.

"We're doing as smooth a transition as we can do," Aufschneider said. "We're trying to close the jobs down safely."