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N.J. lawmakers ordered to work on budget

Governor summons lawmakers for special July 4 session amid budget crisis

Image: Annoyed lottery-ticket seller
Craig Willis passes time on his cell phone as he is unable to sell New Jersey Lottery tickets at the Lucky Corner shop in Union, N.J., because of a shutdown of non-essential state agencies due to an impasse over the state budget.
Jeff Zelevansky / Reuters
Updated: 7:33 a.m. ET July 4, 2006

TRENTON, N.J. - Gov. Jon S. Corzine summoned lawmakers to the Capitol for the Fourth of July in an attempt to break a budget deadlock and end New Jersey’s government shutdown.

Corzine ordered all 120 state lawmakers to work Tuesday, demanding that they meet until they can reach a compromise. If no deal is reached, Atlantic City casinos, state parks and historic sites would close Wednesday.

“That session will continue until a budget is signed into law,” Corzine said.

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The state lottery, road construction, motor vehicle offices, vehicle inspection stations and courts have already closed. More than half the state work force — 45,000 people — was ordered to stay home on Monday.

State regulators have ordered the casinos to close at 8 a.m. Wednesday, and on Monday the state Supreme Court declined the casinos’ request for a reprieve. The state casinos would have to close because they cannot operate without state gambling monitors, and those workers are not deemed “essential” employees who keep getting paid during a shutdown.

“When they shut down, then there’s no tourists, no conventions, no money for the workers. That’s not good,” said Ann Ji, who runs a beauty supplies store one block from the casino strip.

Many Democrats oppose state sales tax
The dispute centers on Corzine’s plan to increase the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent to help overcome a $4.5 billion budget deficit and avert future state budget woes. The plan is opposed by Corzine’s fellow Democrats in the Assembly.

Amid that conflict, the state missed its midnight Friday constitutional deadline to adopt a balanced budget, leaving the state with no means to spend money.

The Senate convened Monday and planned to stay until a budget was adopted, but Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr., the leading sales tax opponent, hasn’t scheduled Assembly meetings since the deadline passed.

In a morning speech, Corzine planned to discuss a compromise offered by Senate President Richard J. Codey, who proposed using half the $1.1 billion raised by the sales tax increase to ease the state’s property taxes, among the highest in the nation.

Codey predicted that plan would pass the Legislature if considered.

“I think it could and it would if in fact the three leaders agreed on it and strongly urged their members to accept it,” Codey said.

But Roberts wants any sales tax increase set aside for property tax reform talks slated for later this year.

“The governor has rejected countless reasonable spending cuts and revenue raisers that could replace the sales tax increase,” Roberts said. “It all points toward a single-minded mission to force through a sales tax hike under the duress of a shutdown order.”

© 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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