The fight may be over, but the rush to claim victory in one of the ugliest and most drawn-out legislative squabbles in recent years is just beginning. After an Assembly committee advanced a compromise measure to allow for a potential state takeover of Atlantic City Monday, Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-6) credited Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) with laying down the groundwork for that compromise.
Greenwald got in one last dig at Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D-32), who provoked a firestorm of criticism from the Majority Leader, the Senate President and Governor Chris Christie when he suggested at the height of the negotiations that a municipal bankruptcy should still be on the table. Prieto had planned to oppose Sweeney’s proposal with his own, more conciliatory takeover bill.
“This legislation is modeled on the proposal offered by the Senate President and myself 40 days ago and represents a renewed hope for Atlantic City,” Greenwald said of their initial offer of letting the city cut its spending by half in 130 days. “This is the solution we have been seeking for many months, and I’m proud that we were able to achieve a responsible public policy outcome when the stakes were the highest. As I have said repeatedly, bankruptcy and financial ruin cannot be options for Atlantic City.”
Greenwald was a staunch supporter of the Senate bill sponsored by Sweeney and favored by Christie. After declining to post his own bill offering the city two more years before allowing the state to break union contracts and sell off city assets, Prieto testified in favor of an amended version of the Senate bill this afternoon.
“Providing 150 days for the city to bring its financial house in order gives municipal government officials the opportunity to reduce government spending, including the ability to utilize early retirement incentives and ensure some of Atlantic City’s revenue will stay in the city,” Greenwald continued.
The compromise offers Atlantic City 150 days to submit a plan to balance its 2017 budget by making $80 million to $100 million in spending cuts. If the state does not approve that plan, or if the city does not follow the letter of those approved cuts, the terms of Sweeney’s original takeover bill would take effect. It also works around the stalled PILOT agreement between the city and its remaining casinos by offering transitional aid to the city to shore up its 2016 budget.
“The securitized loan in this legislation will allow Atlantic City to continue to operate during the summer months and ensure that the all-important tourism season is not impacted by the threat of looming disaster,” Greenwald said.
Prieto said in his own statement that he is satisfied with the outcome.
“They will have 150 days to devise a plan to balance next year’s budget and prepare a five-year plan to get their finances in order,” Prieto wrote. “That’s far different from the unreasonable and unworkable demand to cut a per capita budget statistic in half in 130 days. Unlike the initial bill, collective bargaining is not immediately on the chopping block.”