After PILOT Veto, Atlantic City Delegation Seethes

PILOT Senate sponsor Jim Whelan (D-2)

PILOT Senate sponsor Jim Whelan (D-2)

With a proposed deal to stop casino tax appeals most likely dead in the water, the sponsors of the payment in lieu of taxes bill for Atlantic City casinos are laying into Governor Chris Christie for his veto of their plan to stop the revenue losses. Senator Jim Whelan (D-2) and Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-2) posted the bill as part of an Atlantic City rescue package, with the PILOT bill serving as the lynchpin of their plan to improve the city’s devastated ratable base.

Even Assemblyman Chris Brown (R-2), a former PILOT opponent and likely state Senate contender in 2017, is joining in the criticism.

By choosing not to take action on the bill Tuesday morning, Christie has likely killed the bill. The governor’s office was not available for comment on the reasoning behind the veto. Christie first conditionally vetoed the bill in November, and it reached his desk for the second time with all of his changes in place.

The bill would have set casinos’ collective annual payment at a minimum of $120 million. Christie’s conditional veto would have made Atlantic City submit a detailed financial plan to the state before receiving those funds.

The failure of the bill leaves Atlantic city with a $33.5 million budget shortfall for 2015, and the city’s cash on hand is on track to dry up in April according to a report from Emergency Manager Kevin Lavin. With no clear alternative to the PILOT plan, a state takeover proposed by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) looks more likely than ever.

“New Jersey has joined ‘Alice in Wonderland,'” said Whelan in an emailed statement after Tuesday’s announcement. “The Legislature concurred with his version of the bills, and now he is bizarrely vetoing them. Clearly, our ‘tell it like it is’ Governor does not mean what he says.”

Mazzeo joined in, taking shots at Christie’s long absences since announcing his campaign for president this summer. After blasting the governor for his support of casino gaming expansion in North Jersey and accusing him of supporting the Sweeney-led takeover effort, Mazzeo excoriated the governor’s record.

“It’s becoming more clear everyday that the Governor’s complete and utter lack of ideas defines his abandoned leadership of this state. Once again Christie’s name stands synonymous with the word failure. Despite the Governor’s mismanagement, I am committed to moving forward and finding a resolution to the challenges we face in Atlantic County to restore economic security to our region.”

Though Brown was careful not to pay any compliments to a bill to which he only ever offered heavily qualified support, he expressed frustration in a written statement at having met with Lavin and formulated his own alternative recovery plans “only to have the rug pulled out from under me and the families I represent in the eleventh hour.”

The city’s options for cutting losses and bringing in new revenue are looking bleak in the wake of the veto. The crux of Sweeney’s takeover bill would be a sale of the Atlantic City Municipal Utilities Authority, which controls the city’s water, for $100 million.

After PILOT Veto, Atlantic City Delegation Seethes