TRENTON, N.J. – With Atlantic City casinos and state parks slated to be the next victims of New Jersey's ongoing government shutdown, Gov. Jon S. Corzine on Tuesday urged lawmakers to compromise on his plan to increase the sales tax.
"Make no mistake, people are being hurt and unfortunately more will be hurt in the days ahead," the governor told lawmakers during an unprecedented special session at the Statehouse.
The governor's call came three days after he started to shut down state government because lawmakers missed a deadline to approve a new budget. Without one, New Jersey has no means to spend money.
"All of us surely believe this circumstance must end," Corzine said.
The dispute with the governor's fellow Democrats who control the Legislature centers on his plan to increase the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent to help overcome a $4.5 billion budget deficit for his $31 billion spending plan. The proposal would cost the average New Jersey family $275 per year, according to experts.
"No one is seeking to increase taxes because they want to," the governor said, after detailing years of mismanagement of the state's revenues.
If no deal is reached Tuesday, Atlantic City casinos, which require state monitoring to operate, and state parks and historic sites are expected to close Wednesday.
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 — has been ordered to stay home.
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.
The state stands to lose about $1.3 million per day in casino tax revenue if gambling is halted, according to the Casino Control Commission. The state already is losing $2.2 million per day in lottery revenue, according to the Treasury Department.
Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr. has led opposition to the sales tax hike in part because he wants the money to be used to lower the state's property taxes, which are among the highest in the nation.
Corzine on Tuesday urged lawmakers to approve a compromise first offered by Senate President Richard J. Codey that would use half the $1.1 billion raised by the sales tax increase to ease the state's property taxes, among the highest in the nation.
"I'm willing to meet the Legislature half way," Corzine told lawmakers.
He said the Legislature should keep working until a spending plan is approved.
"We must stay here until we meet our constitutional obligations," he said.