The state takeover of Atlantic City is only an Assembly vote away, with Governor Chris Christie saying that he will veto any version of the bill and its accompanying PILOT agreement for the city’s casinos that differ from the versions passed in the Senate. Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-28) has been the most vocal of the PILOT bill’s last-minute Senate amendment allowing casinos to opt out of the PILOT program if casino gaming expands into North Jersey.
Caputo, an Assembly sponsor of the bill to amend the constitution and bring two new casinos to expected locations in the Meadowlands and Jersey City, said the amendment defeats the purpose of the PILOT. Those casinos would be free to go back to appealing their taxes and further damaging the city’s ratable base if casinos break ground before their properties are officially reassessed in a way that reflects the current inhospitable gaming market.
“By having that amendment in the bill, that sort of derails the fiscal stability that we’re trying to accomplish from these two measures,” he said. “In my opinion, it sort of undermines the whole effort. It also shows that those that said they were interested in North Jersey gaming really are not.”
Suggesting that the Senate amendment was retaliation from South Jersey lawmakers for the North Jersey casino effort, Caputo said the opt-out provision would take away the state’s leverage.
“This is not about us, this is about corporations that are going to benefit. They not only want the licenses, they want to control the casinos up here. They want the assets of Atlantic City. And they want to be able to implement their tax appeals. That’s everything, isn’t it? That sounds to me like the whole ball game.”
Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D-32), a PILOT supporter, has not posted the takeover bill and objects to its terms allowing the state to alter collective bargaining agreements for city employees. Though Christie has balked at further changes to the bills, Caputo said he would only support a return to the original PILOT bill. Christie pocket vetoed that bill in January, shortly before announcing the takeover plan alongside Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3).
“What I’m looking for is a true compromise and respect for both houses that we haven’t been able to get at this point, either from the upper house or the administration,” Caputo continued.
Reached for comment, Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-6) said that despite Christie’s public comments, the amendment is not guaranteed to make it into the Assembly’s version of the bill.
“It’s not in our Assembly version right now,” Greenwald said, pointing to the North Jersey casino compromise as another high-stakes vote where immovable public positions became private compromises at the eleventh hour. “I would not be relitigating things that we’ve already passed. I think what we really need to do is get everybody around the table and figure out how we save Atlantic City from going into bankruptcy.”
Greenwald said that his own reservations about the takeover legislation have been allayed by his conversations with Atlantic City mayor Don Guardian about the required monetization of the city water authority. Public union leaders have also been at the table to work out a compromise on the collective bargaining agreements.
“He’s been very open to conversations around public-private partnerships,” Greenwald said of Guardian and the water authority. “In my conversations with union leaders, they’ve shown a tremendous amount of movement.”
“As Assembly members we don’t have a role in the contract negotiations,” he added.