BY JONATHAN TAMARI
GANNETT STATE BUREAU
TRENTON -- If you're feeling lucky, you might want to buy your lottery tickets now -- right now -- but maybe rethink any trip to Atlantic City.
The New Jersey Lottery will stop selling tickets at 8 p.m. today, and Atlantic City casinos may be forced to close soon as well, because of a government shutdown beginning this morning that will send home all nonessential state workers.
The unprecedented closure of New Jersey government may include casino regulators, although a court challenge and specific casino shutdown plan are still in doubt.
With racing commissioners also going home, the Meadowlands will not hold
its evening races today. Monmouth Park racetrack will hold its last races at 1 p.m.
State parks and beaches will remain open until July 5. Motor Vehicle Commission offices and inspection stations were slated to close at noon and would not reopen on Monday, if the shutdown remains in effect.
The shutdown comes because lawmakers and Gov. Jon S. Corzine could not
agree on a state budget in time for the new fiscal year, which began at 12:01 a.m. Without a budget, Corzine said, the state does not have the authority to spend money and pay its workers, except for "essential'' employees deemed necessary for safety.
"It gives me no joy, no satisfaction, no sense of empowerment, to do
what I am forced to do,'' Corzine said.
About 45,000 state workers, out of roughly 80,000 on the payroll, have been told to not report to work Monday, should the shutdown and budget stalemate persist.
"Without a balanced budget in place the state simply isn't allowed to spend money,'' Corzine said after signing an executive order beginning the shutdown at about 9:30 a.m. "Effective immediately, all nonessential functions of New Jersey government will begin to shut down.''
Corzine said elements of government essential to safety will continue to
For example, the vast majority of workers employed by the State Police and the Department of Corrections will remain on the job. But other departments will be gutted until a budget is in place -- only four out of 340 Board of Public Utilities workers, for example, will keep working through the shutdown.
It's unclear if state employees will be paid for time missed. Corzine's chief counsel, Stuart Rabner, said that would be determined by the budget that is eventually passed.
Welfare checks for the month have already gone out, according to the counsel's office. August's checks could be affected if the shutdown lasted past this month.
The state budget remains in question this morning as Corzine and lawmakers stand locked in a debate over the administration's plan to increase the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent. Assembly Democrats and some senators have fought against the proposal, which Corzine deems essential to fixing years of financial woes.
Friday night, as a shutdown seemed unavoidable, Assembly leaders blasted
Corzine, portraying the closure as a strong-arm negotiating tactic.
"The problem is not that our alternatives are not legitimate, it is that the governor simply doesn't care for them,'' Assembly Speaker Joseph J. Roberts Jr., D-Camden, said late Friday. "Is that enough to shut down the state government?''
Corzine and Rabner said this morning that without a budget they are compelled to close government because of constitutional law and court precedents.
Corzine said he would work on a compromise, but that "there's no real
prospect to believe'' it would come within the next 24 hours.
"I'm much more interested in solutions, not fights,'' Corzine said.
The biggest impact of a shutdown would likely fall on casinos, which can't operate unless state regulators are on-site. The Casino Association of New Jersey estimates the state would lose about $1.3 million on a typical day in gaming taxes if casinos are shut down and $7.3 million over the extended holiday weekend.