For Some Assembly Republicans, Path Forward on AC Remains Unclear

Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi was not in favor of the bill.

Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi.

For Governor Chris Christie, it seems that he can no longer count on the uncontested support of the Republicans in the Assembly as a given. That fact has emerged as elected officials weigh three options on Atlantic City: follow suit with the governor to back Senate President Steve Sweeney’s bill, defect to back Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto’s bill or pick neither and let the city bankrupt.

Because Prieto’s bill just passed committee on Thursday, the alternative to Sweeney’s bill is fresh in the bloodstream, with many Republicans still pouring over it. Though Sweeney’s bill passed in the Senate in February, Prieto has made it clear that he has no plans to put it up for vote in the assembly.

“I don’t think that it is fair to say that the Republican caucus isn’t following suit because there was no straw poll taken as to where people stand on this so it is not that people are against the Sweeney/Governor proposal in our caucus, it is that we are all trying to understand what we will be voting upon,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-39). “Why take a vote on a bill when it is very possible that it is never going to be put up for us to vote upon?”

Schepisi says she is “not enthralled by either bill.” Schepisi, along with 24 of her fellow Assembly Republicans sent a letter to Prieto, asking him to post Sweeney’s bill to let the process unfold and let the votes fall where they may. Prieto did not post the bill for vote during Thursday’s Assembly session.

“It is something where we are just sort of sitting in wait to see what, if anything, we are going to be asked to vote upon,” Schepisi said.

According to Assemblywoman Maria Rodriguez-Gregg (R-8), she and many of her fellow Republicans are still considering how to proceed.

“Currently I am still weighing all the proposed legislation and I am not decided as to which is best,” Rodriguez-Gregg told PolitickerNJ. “I think everyone is weighing what is best in the interest of Atlantic City in the short and long term.”

According to a source, for some members of the Republican caucus, the option of letting the city bankrupt is starting to emerge as a serious possibility.

Assemblyman John DiMaio (R-23) said that, while he is “looking at all his options,” there is a possibility that he will come to support neither Sweeney’s bill or Prieto’s bill.

“There are three ways to go on this: go for either one of these bills or go no bill at all and let it go it’s natural course,” DiMaio said. “That is credit court, file for bankruptcy. Everybody doesn’t want to mess with the unions. I want to take a look at all of this but, as I understand right now, there is a possibility I won’t vote for either one.”

Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-16) also said that bankruptcy may emerge as an option.

“Speaker Prieto’s bill was introduced just yesterday, so I’m not intimate with the details just yet,” Ciattarelli said. “ Regarding Atlantic City’s challenges, fiscal and otherwise, all parties share in this embarrassing failure. All parties should therefore share in the short-term pain necessary to creating long-term prosperity in Atlantic City. So, whatever option, including bankruptcy, that comes closest to truly resetting Atlantic City as soon as possible is what we should be supporting.”

Governor Christie has been strongly pushing for Sweeney’s bill, claiming that if it passed the assembly he would immediately sign it. According to one source, Christie’s ability to steer the caucus in his direction is dwindling with his term now in it its penultimate year. The source said that, because many Republicans are likely to be in office after Christie has left and will be the ones left to deal with Atlantic City’s aftermath, they are considering every option with extreme caution.

Republicans Chris Brown (R-2), Erik Peterson (R-23) and Sean Kean (R-30) have defected from Christie’s camp on the AC bills and are backing Prieto. Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-26) has come out in favor of the bankruptcy option.