The verdict is coming. New Jersey’s declining gaming capitol intends to make deep cuts to shore up its losses from out-of-state competition, and prevent a state takeover of its finances. Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian and City Council President Marty Small have made their case to the administration of Governor Chris Christie, and will know whether the state accepts the terms of their home-rule recovery plan at the end of this month.
Following a hearing in the Assembly Judiciary Committee Wednesday, Guardian said that he is confident the Department of Community Affairs will approve the plan on November 1, when it is scheduled to make an official decision. Christie and Senate President Steve Sweeney have been vocal proponents of a takeover that would give the state the power to sell of the city’s remaining assets to prevent a bankruptcy.
“Not only did we find a way not to raise taxes on the residents of Atlantic City, but we also outlined how we will steadily decrease our dependence on State aid over the coming years. This plan creates a win-win for everyone. We are very proud to present this plan, and we anticipate its full approval by the Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs.”
Among other things, the recovery plan would cut 100 city jobs and include a tax settlement for the resort town’s most profitable casino, the Borgata. Early retirement plans would also be part of the agreement, as would the sale of Bader Field, the site of the city’s former airport, to its Municipal Utilities Authority. In the event of a takeover, the MUA could be privatized in a bid to help pay off the city’s $500 million in debt.
The plan was narrowly approved by a 5-3-1 city council vote Monday, and Guardian presented the plan to DCA officials Tuesday. A spokesman for the Borgata, however, said that the casino had not agreed to the $103 million compromise in the plan—the city currently owes the casino $150 million before interest.
Assembly Judiciary Chairman John McKeon called the plan a welcome alternative to a takeover, pointing to provisions in the original takeover bill that would have allowed the state to break union contracts.
“When this process started, takeover was nearly preordained. Those who felt that was not equitable, fair and reasonable put together a Herculean effort to present an alternative. It has since enabled the city to preserve collective bargaining while negotiating a fair compromise with the unions and enabled the city to keep crucial assets in its portfolio for the benefit of the people.
“Notably, it does not include a tax increase,” he said of the plan itself. “Mayor Guardian, Council President Small and their teams have done their jobs and done them well. I see no reason why the Department of Community Affairs would reject this plan.”
Small, who plans to run against his ally in the war of words between the city and the state when Guardian goes up for reelection in 2017, said he hopes the DCA accepts the plan. His likely primary opponent and fellow councilman Frank Gilliam opposed the plan in this week’s city council vote.
“I am confident that this plan will erase the doubt of legislators that we did not have the fortitude to make the tough decisions. Ultimately, this plan will keep the Atlantic City government in the hands of the people.”