Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian spoke at Monday’s meeting of the Assembly Budget Committee in Trenton to voice his opposition to the state takeover effort. The Assembly will be the determining factor now that the takeover package from Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) has cleared the Senate. Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D-32) has said that he objects to allowing the state broad powers in altering collective bargaining agreements and may not put the bill to a vote.
Guardian said that he was not testifying to request additional funds from the state budget, but to ask for the committee members’ support for the takeover legislation’s companion bill. That bill would allow Atlantic City casinos to make flat payments in lieu of taxes, stemming the city’s losses from ongoing casino property tax appeals.
Guardian called the takeover effort “too far-going,” adding “We’re a cooperative city that to help get out of our problems, but we do need help from the state of New Jersey.”
“Today I ask for your support on Assembly bill 3209, which would provide a steady stream of dedicated revenue from our city casinos to Atlantic City, along with an additional $110 million from the casinos over the next ten years to help us with our city’s debt,” Guardian said. “For years Atlantic City has been not only an iconic part of New Jersey, it’s been a great economic engine for the state of New Jersey. Over 35 years of casino gaming, Atlantic City has sent to Trenton $21 billion. Even last year, a tough year, we sent almost $600 million in taxes and fees to the state of New Jersey.
“We’ve been working cooperatively with a state monitor for the two years that I’ve been mayor. we’ve cut $25 million out of last year’s budget, we’re cutting an additional $25 million out of this year’s budget. We 330 fewer employees than we had two years ago working for Atlantic City, and we’ll have an additional 40 less by June of this year. We’re doing everything we can whether it’s sharing services, reducing costs, cutting out cars, selling city assets in order to get us out of this financial crisis. But this bill is critical.”
The takeover bill would have the state Local Finance Board oversee hiring and firing of public employees, including the ability to alter collective bargaining agreements. It would also mandate that the city “monetize” its water authority, a requirement that could lead to privatization or a folding-in of the authority with the county’s. The PILOT became tied to the takeover effort following its surprise pocket veto from Governor Chris Christie.