N.J. governor says budget shutdown nearly over

A casino worker closes off the casino floor at Caesar's Atlantic City casino on Wednesday.
A casino worker closes off the casino floor at Caesar's Atlantic City casino on Wednesday.Mary Godleski / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

New Jersey’s governor and lawmakers reached a deal Thursday 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 S. Corzine said a government shutdown that closed casinos and furloughed thousands of workers will end in the next 24 to 36 hours. He 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,” said Senate President Richard J. Codey.

Corzine shut down non-essential 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 governor’s staff didn’t immediately know Thursday how quickly shuttered activities such as horse racing, casino gambling and the lottery would resume. 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.

State losing millions each day
On Wednesday, state parks, beaches and race tracks were ordered to closed. Casino dealers were sent home in mid-shift, gamblers cashed in their chips before being ushered to the exits, and janitors locked the doors behind them. Atlantic City’s 12 casinos stand to lose more than $16 million a day, and the state is losing an estimated $1.3 million a day in taxes the normally generate.

About 36,000 state workers in vital roles, such as child welfare, state police and mental hospitals, are still working, but without pay.

“No one wants to see people lose their jobs. We hope this gets resolved as quickly as possible,” said Linda Kassekert, chairwoman of the state Casino Control Commission.

While gambling ceased, the buildings — which also have restaurants, showrooms, stores and meeting space — stayed open. But many gamblers headed for the exits rather than stay around.

‘I’m getting killed’
At Trump Taj Mahal, 150 people had canceled room reservations by mid-afternoon. Spokesman Tom Hickey said about 2,500 people would be out of work at the three Trump casinos.

In Jersey City, Felix Morales showed up at the gate of Liberty State Park with his family to go fishing, but was turned away.

“Why should the citizens pay for something that the government should have fixed before it got to this point?” he asked.

The effects of the budget stalemate have also frustrated the state’s plan to stockpile influenza medicine in case of a flu pandemic. Officials reserved 907,000 courses of antiviral drug Tamiflu from a federal stockpile, but can’t order or pay for the drugs without a budget, said Dr. Fred Jacobs, the state health commissioner.

The deadlock was even being felt over the state line in New York, where limousine services reported cancellations as gamblers chose not to rent cars and drivers to ferry them to Atlantic City.

“I’m getting killed — people have canceled like crazy,” said Stan Spirn, owner of Stan’s Limousine Service.