07/06/2006 11:00PM

U.N. date goes down to the wire

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Even though Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands lost their Friday cards to the state government budget crisis, the tracks remained hopeful that racing would resume on Saturday, as both have major events scheduled.

Monmouth was to run the Grade 1, $750,000 , while the Meadowlands planned the eliminations for the $1 million Meadowlands Pace on July 15.

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine and state legislators reached a deal Thursday afternoon on a new budget, the first step in ending the government shutdown that forced the closure Wednesday of the state's racetracks and halted all simulcasting and account wagering.

The key to the compromise was legislators capitulating to Corzine's demand for an increase in the sales tax from 6 to 7 percent.

Both the Assembly and the Senate had to approve the budget before it went to Corzine for signature. The governor indicated he will lift the closure order once the budget clears both houses. That seemed unlikely to occur until late Friday night.

The budget committees in both houses were set to meet Friday at 6 p.m. Once the committees approve a budget, it goes to both houses for approval. The process looked likely to drag on into Saturday morning, but legislative leaders and the governor indicated a willingness to work to completion.

"The process is starting, but the actual voting by the Senate and the Assembly will not take place until later this evening," Chris McErlean, the vice president of racing operations for monmouth and the Meadowlands, said Friday afternoon. "We are cautiously optimistic that the racing and simulcasting will take place Saturday without a hitch.

We are making plans for both Monmouth Park's afternoon card and the Meadowlands live racing card tomorrow night, and for simulcasting to go forward."

The shutdown cost Monmouth two live cards: Thursday and Friday. The Meadowlands lost four live cards. All simulcasting and account wagering in the state halted at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.

The crisis began when the legislature did not meet the July 1 constitutional deadline to pass a budget. With no money to pay salaries, Corzine ordered a shutdown off all "nonessential" state agencies, including those that regulate gambling.

By state statute, gambling cannot take place without on-site inspectors.

Once Corzine rescinds the shutdown order, the New Jersey Racing Commission can reassign officials - such as stewards, state veterinarians, and parimutuel supervisors - and racing can resume.