New Jersey Governor Corzine Signs Budget, Ending Gov't Shutdown

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Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed a $30 billion compromise spending plan Saturday night, formally ending a state budget impasse that spurred a weeklong government shutdown and shuttered Atlantic City's 12 casinos.

"I was hoping we would have something better to do than hang around the Statehouse on a Saturday night" Corzine joked before signing the spending plan shortly before 7 p.m. at his Statehouse office.

He said it was "regrettable" that the budget was adopted eight days after the July 1 deadline imposed by the state Constitution, saying it was "something that should not have occurred and can never be repeated."

The shutdown furloughed 45,000 state workers, including the state casino inspectors who by law must be present in New Jersey's 24-hour casinos. That forced the gambling halls to close, idling about 36,000 people and turning this bustling casino mecca into a ghost town during its busiest season.

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.

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.