ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) – The slot machines could be ringing as early as Friday night under a deal reached by Gov. Jon S. Corzine and state lawmakers to end New Jersey’s weeklong government shutdown.

Legislative committees were set to consider the legislation Friday afternoon to clear the way for voting on a new state budget Friday evening.

Corzine would have to sign an executive order to formally end the shutdown, which has closed gambling operations, state agencies, beaches and parks and thrown more than 80,000 people out of work in the process.

The compromise plan, announced Thursday, would increase the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent. Half the $1.1 billion that would raise would go to ease property taxes, among the nation’s highest. Corzine had wanted all the money to go toward helping close a $4.5 billion deficit in his $31 billion spending plan.

To ensure the sales tax revenue isn’t spent elsewhere, voters would be asked in November to constitutionally dedicate half the sales tax increase to property tax relief for the next 10 years.

The governor cautioned that the budget deal was not cause for celebration, because too many residents’ lives were disrupted and the state’s fiscal problems were not yet fully resolved.

“We have much more to do in the coming months and years to fix our state’s public finances,” he said.

The government shutdown began Saturday after the Legislature missed a July 1 dead for passing a state budget. That forced the temporary layoff of about 45,000 state workers, taking all but essential state employees off the job because, with no budget, their pay wasn’t authorized by the Legislature.

Casino inspectors, required by law to keep tabs on the games, remained on the job through the weekend but were ordered to stay home starting Wednesday.

The casino closings, the first in the 28-year history of legal gambling in New Jersey, left normally bustling slot parlors and blackjack pits oddly silent. Some 36,000 dealers and cocktail servers were off the job when the 12 Atlantic City casinos closed their doors. Some bus lines stopped running to Atlantic City for lack of gamblers.

Operators and their customers criticized the state for ordering the closings, saying the $1.3 million in daily tax revenue they add to state coffers made them the wrong targets for cost-cutting in a budget crunch.

Tony Rodio, regional president of the Atlantic City Hilton and sister property Resorts Atlantic City, said the casinos were being inundated with calls from customers wanting to know when they would reopen. Casino officials didn’t know what to tell them because of lingering uncertainty at the capitol.

“Regardless of the hour, if they tell us we can open at 2 a.m. we’ll open at 2 a.m.,” said Rodio. “The property is ready to go. Literally, all we have to do is take down the stanchions and the signs.”

Trump Entertainment chief operating officer Mark Juliano said he believed casinos would open at midnight Friday at the earliest.

“Every second that goes by makes the situation worse. Opening at midnight Friday, you can discount Friday as being completely lost and a severe impact on the weekend,” he said.

At the New Jersey Casino Control Commission, spokesman Daniel Heneghan said that once Corzine’s office lifts the emergency shutdown order, the commission chair will sign an order to open the casinos.

“We have inspectors on call, ready to respond whenever that happens,” he said. “As soon as that happens, we will open up casinos as soon as possible.”

Democrats who control the Assembly had opposed the sales tax increase, which would cost the average New Jersey family an estimated $275 per year, saying it was regressive and unnecessary.

The inability of the Democratic governor and members of his own party to reach an agreement until so long after the July 1 budget deadline drew ridicule from Republican lawmakers.

“This process has been a disaster and an embarrassment for the people of the state of New Jersey,” said Republican Assemblyman Bill Baroni.

AP-ES-07-07-06 1213EDT


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