New Jersey governor Chris Christie said that Atlantic City is facing a turning point after a decade of decline at Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the Gateway Project, a new development that includes a headquarters for South Jersey Industries and a residential campus for Stockton University.
Christie called the public-private partnerships that have enabled the $220 million project a measure of the state’s success following its takeover of the city’s finances last year. The debate over the takeover was heated, with Christie aligning with Senate President Steve Sweeney and retiring State Senator Jim Whelan to push for a plan that allows the state to sell off city assets and scrap collective bargaining agreements.
“To do this it’s been imperative that we put Atlantic City and its government on the path to financial stability,” Christie said. “If I told you a year ago that we would announce a five percent decrease in Atlantic City property taxes for the 2017 budget year, you would have said that both Sweeney and I were crazy.”
Atlantic City has cut $35 million from its budget since last year, leading to the city’s first decrease in property tax bills since 2008. The city’s municipal tax rate shot up 96 percent after 2010, when five of the resort town’s casinos closed due to out-of-state competition.
“Atlantic City is too important to New Jersey to fail,” Sweeney said. “It was the golden goose that got sick.”
Christie estimated that the project will bring 925 construction jobs to the city, and 300 permanent jobs. Roughly 500 students are expected to live on the new Stockton campus, with 1,000 attending courses there.
While Christie and Sweeney were arguing the merits of the takeover, supporters of home rule gathered that same day to warn against a potential privatization of the city’s water authority under the terms of the takeover law. Sweeney countered rumors of a sale to New Jersey American Water repeatedly in the run-up to the takeover, saying he does not favor privatization.
NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks joined union leaders and members of the Atlantic City Municipal Utilities Authority to express support for workers who may face layoffs because of the takeover, and pointed to the local branch’s petition to force a referendum on any sale of the MUA, which controls the city’s water.
“Water rights are civil rights, and civil rights are human rights,” Brooks said.