Budget Woes Take Toll In New Jersey

New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine announces a shutown of nonessential departments and services Saturday July 1, 2006 in Trenton, N.J. as Chief Counsel Stuart Radner looks on at right. In a dramatic and extraordinary pen stroke, Gov. Corzine Saturday morning closed state government amid a bitter dispute with fellow Democrats in the Assembly over his plan to increase the sales tax. (AP Photo/Jackie Schear)
AP Photo
Courts, motor vehicle offices and inspection stations are closed. Lottery ticket sales have been halted. The same could happen to betting at race tracks and casinos.

More than half the state work force was staying home Monday on the first weekday of a statewide shutdown that began after lawmakers missed a July 1 deadline to adopt a new state budget.

The furlough affects about 45,000 state employees. It exempts personnel deemed essential, including state police, prison guards, child welfare workers and some administration staff.

Gov. Jon S. Corzine closed state government Saturday amid an impasse with fellow Democrats in the Assembly that left New Jersey with no means to spend money. He met in private with top Assembly and Senate leaders for nearly four hours Sunday but no compromise was reached.

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

Road construction projects and lottery sales were among the first casualties of the shutdown. Race tracks and casinos, which require state monitoring to remain open, will also be closed by Wednesday morning if no budget is enacted by then.

A state appellate panel on Sunday ordered horse tracks closed at the end of business Tuesday. The horse racing industry said it would file further appeals to keep harness and thoroughbred tracks open past July 4 if the budget impasse is not resolved.

The head of the Casino Control Commission told Atlantic City's 12 casinos to lock up at 8 a.m. Wednesday. The casinos are also waging a court battle to remain open, and an appeals court was weighing the matter Sunday. However, there was no word on when a ruling would be made, court spokeswoman Winnie Comfort said.

If the shutdown drags on, Corzine said services funded with state aid, such as prescription drug assistance and hospitals, will also be hit. State parks, beaches and historic sites will close Wednesday.

Budget talks became heated this year as Corzine 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 Senate Democrats oppose the sales tax increase, fearing voter backlash and reserving any tax increase for property tax changes. Assembly Democrats proposed a series of alternatives, some of which Corzine accepted, but both sides remained $1 billion apart as the budget deadline passed.

Republicans, the minority party in both the Assembly and Senate, have expressed frustration.

"I'm appalled that this reached this stage," said Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance. "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."

As the impasse dragged on, the largest state workers union told essential employees to report to work on Monday while urging nonessential employees to go to the Statehouse to voice their displeasure with lawmakers.

Corzine's order allows him to keep 36,000 state employees working without pay. But it is unclear whether state workers — those ordered to work and those furloughed — will be paid.

Corzine said the decision rests with the Legislature. Lawmakers must approve an appropriations bill and Corzine must sign it before workers can get paid for the shutdown period.

"Everybody deserves to be paid," said Carla Katz, president of Communications Workers of America Local 1034. "We're going to fight to ensure that everybody is paid, essential and nonessential employees. Our members are ready and willing to come to work."