ATLANTIC CITY — While his Democratic counterpart in the legislature spoke warily of the decision, Republican Assemblyman Chris Brown (R-2) offered a tentative defense of the recent announcement by Gov. Chris Christie to install an emergency management team at the head of this beleaguered city, as well as the ongoing deliberations process marked by the state’s third economic summit here today.
“I think what’s most important right now is that we all come together and work together through the summit process, something I’ve been advocating from the beginning,” Brown said when asked about the impending appointments, backed by Christie’s executive order. “There’s too many people who count upon us to put partisan politics aside and work together.”
Christie’s announcement, which officially named an emergency manager and special counsel to oversee the city’s budget and finances, comes as local and state leaders continue to search for answers to the city’s economic problems. Brown and his district counterpart, Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-3), have both led efforts in their own parties to bring relief to the troubled city, each sponsoring legislation to combat the fiscal issues it currently faces.
Mazzeo has supported a plan that would reduce taxes on some of the larger casinos by as much as $10 million a year and stabilize the city’s property tax base, while Brown has proposed a set of bills that would eliminate tax breaks to casinos and freeze Atlantic City taxes for five years at 2014 levels on all taxable property, including casinos.
And although Christie’s latest announcement could put either of those proposals in jeopardy — the Republican told lawmakers during the summit today that they “failed to create a long-term plan for fiscal success” in the city — Brown was largely supportive of the governor’s intervention.
“We convened a summit so that people could submit their ideas and give their opinions and I’ve given my opinions, others have given their opinions, and now we’re going to work together to come up with a plan that is substantial,” he said.
He noted that Mazzeo’s plan came under criticism from local officials and mayors in the county, who railed against the tax hikes in their own municipalities that could come as a result of giving tax breaks to large casinos in Atlantic City.
“With the initial plan with the five bills that were rolled about by Assemblyman Mazzeo, the local Republican mayors, Democratic mayors, and independent mayors voiced their concerns and unhappiness and unease with the consequences of these bills and how it will affect them,” Brown said. “And so anyone who tires to argue that it was a partisan group is just factually inaccurate. Unanimously they said they don’t support the Mazzeo plan.”
Both Brown and Mazzeo are up for re-election this year, and political observers note the situation in Atlantic City is bound to take center stage.
Mazzeo, for his part, expressed some skepticism over the idea of an emergency manager taking the reigns here — as well as Christie’s big-footing of the city’s Republican Mayor Don Guardian, who some say Democrats in the legislature have tried to ally themselves with ahead of this year’s elections.
“I think we need to continue to move forward with this legislation, we’ll have to see how it goes,” Mazzeo told PolitickerNJ. “You’ll have an emergency manager come here but I think it’s going to be more on Atlantic City’s budget. But the other side of it is how do we face or how do we fix these tax appeals going forward. And the PILOT program does that. It establishes revenue for Atlantic City so they know what they’re going to get, and the tax payers know what they’re going to pay.”
Guardian himself said he would still like to see Mazzeo’s bills package become a reality following the meeting.