New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine issued an executive order early Saturday that ended a weeklong state government shutdown and set the stage for Atlantic City’s casinos to reopen.
The governor acted minutes after lawmakers approved a $30.9 billion state budget that increases the state sales tax, ending the stalemate.
“I now feel comfortable we can begin the orderly restoring of the business of government,” Corzine said.
The 12 casinos, which closed Wednesday, got permission to resume business at 7 a.m., but operations did not start up immediately. On Monday, 45,000 furloughed state workers could return to work, although exact plans were not immediately announced. State parks would reopen and lottery sales would resume.
The Senate voted 23-17 to approve the budget at 4:20 a.m. The Assembly followed suit at 5:40 a.m., by a 44-35 vote.
Corzine said he hoped to sign the budget later Saturday, although he wanted to take some time to review it.
“We’re going to do a thorough and professional job — as good as anyone can possibly do operating on three hours sleep three nights in a row,” he said.
Gamblers at the door
At the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa shortly after the 7 a.m. OK to reopen, a handful of hopeful gamblers milled around the perimeter, but casino employees were still reporting to work and gambling had not started.
The budget crisis began when Democrats who control the state Assembly balked at the Democratic governor’s proposal to increase the sales tax. The impasse caused the Legislature to miss a July 1 constitutional deadline for passing a new budget. With no authority to spend money, Corzine ordered nonessential government services suspended.
The budget reflects a compromise reached Thursday between Corzine and legislative leaders that will increase the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent and set aside half the proceeds for property tax relief.
“With the budget crisis finally behind us, it is imperative that we move quickly to address the number-one concern of residents: New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes,” Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr. said.
The tax increase would raise $1.1 billion. Corzine had wanted all the money to go toward helping close a $4.5 billion budget deficit and help ease future budget woes.
Families to pay $275 more annually
The increase is expected to cost the average New Jersey family $275 per year, according to fiscal experts.
In all, the budget plan contains about $1.8 billion in tax increases. About $300 million in special projects were added late Friday by Democrat legislators, including many that would help municipalities and organizations represented by Democratic leaders.
That, as well as the failure to get a budget passed by the deadline, drew the scorn of Republican lawmakers.
Assemblyman Joseph Malone, R-Burlington, called the budget standoff and final product an “insult to the intelligence of residents in the state of New Jersey.”
The casino closings, the first in the 28-year history of legal gambling in New Jersey, occurred because the gambling halls require state inspectors on the scene to operate.