Following Governor Christie’s conditional veto of a bill to offer payment in lieu of taxes to Atlantic City’s remaining casinos, Senator Jim Whelan (D-2) and Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-2) said that they are frustrated with what they called the governor’s lack of clarity.
“It’s all speculation now,” said Mazzeo. “I think he wants to have full control of the finances that are coming out of AC and he’s taking it away from any separate entity of the city. He wants to make sure how the money is spent, where the cuts are coming from.”
Christie’s conditional veto would have casinos render their payments to the state. The funds would then be released back to the city with the approval of the state’s Local Finance Board. City government would have to make a successful case for its budget in order to receive them.
Though Christie has called for “fiscal restraint and strong leadership” over “self-preservation and vacillation” and criticized Atlantic City Council’s budget plans as “unrealistic,” it is unclear which of the city’s stalled cost-cutting measures will be on the table when Christie and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) meet to negotiate in January.
The Press of Atlantic City reported Tuesday that City Councilman George Tibbitt called the veto an attempt to leverage PILOT funds and compel the city to regionalize its police department, privatize trash collection, and sell the Municipal Utilities Authority.
One source suggested that Christie’s recent victory lap appearance in Camden, a city which disbanded its police department and regionalized in 2013, could be an indication that Christie is laying the groundwork for a regionalization push in Atlantic City.
Though Mayor Don Guardian said he would be willing to do his part for a sale of the MUA, which controls the city’s water, he claimed Wednesday that negotiations so far have not included any discussion of regionalizing police. Guardian added that he would oppose any such provision.
“No one is exactly sure what the governor specifically is looking for,” said Whelan. “Is it the water company, is it regionalizing the police department, is it privatizing some other aspects of city government?
“I guess we’re supposed to guess.”
Though Mazzeo was ambivalent on the idea of a regionalized police force, he reiterated his dissatisfaction with Christie’s hands-off approach prior to this week’s veto.
“Possibly that’s not a bad idea,” said Mazzeo of regionalizing. “All that time he never came out with any statement or anything that, you know, where he was leaning towards, where we could possibly talk and make some type of compromise.”
As for the sale of the MUA, Whelan said that the governor may run into resistance when he tries to convince the city council to dissolve the existing authority.
“I don’t know if the city is going to agree to what the governor may request. And if they don’t then we don’t have a PILOT, everybody’s taxes go up and we all live with the consequences.”