The state Assembly has been the newest fly in the ointment in the negotiations over a state takeover of Atlantic City, with Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D-36) and Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-6) saying that they would refuse to post an Atlantic City takeover bill from Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3). Prieto said last week that he will not support any plan that alters existing collective bargaining agreements, while Greenwald said that he would refuse to post the bill if local officials stay opposed to the terms of the deal.
Sweeney, for his part, said that Christie will have the final say.
Those agreements and the early retirements that could follow from changes to them are the first of two crucial budgeting issues for Sweeney’s takeover effort — the current draft mandates that the city “monetize” the Municipal Utilities Authority, which controls the city’s water supply. Reached for comment, a staffer with the Assembly Democrats said that Prieto has not taken an official stance on the water utility issue.
Assembly sources who wished to stay anonymous said Tuesday that Prieto and Greenwald broke with the Senate President to combat the perception that the Assembly has less say in fickle battles over high-profile legislation. Though Prieto and Greenwald could very well follow through on their promise to block the takeover bill, some are predicting that necessity will cut into the negotiations when the city runs out of money in the next few weeks.
Conversations between the houses and governor and between the city and county could have dragged on, said Senator Jim Whelan (D-2), but most likely won’t.
“We are out of time. We are down to the midnight hour here. And frankly, AC really hasn’t put forward many viable options either,” he said.
Seton Hall political science professor Matt Hale echoed the Assembly source’s sentiment that Prieto and Greenwald’s resistance is more about politics than policy. Hale said that while Prieto stands to strengthen his labor bona fides by taking on Sweeney, he doesn’t believe there’s any hope of the collective bargaining agreements going untouched.
“It’s sort of forcing Senator Sweeney into saying ‘look, Governor Christie and I have to be the adults in the room,” Hale said. “I don’t see how he can believe that you can solve the Atlantic City problems without adjustments to the collective bargaining agreements.
“Ultimately, when there is some adjustments to what’s going on, he can stand up at campaign dinners and say “I’ve fought for unions in every possible way.’”
Rider University’s Ben Dworkin, meanwhile, said that the rivalry between the Assembly and Senate will inevitably take a backseat if Governor Chris Christie doubles down on his support for Sweeney’s plan. With the financial deadline looming and in light of his pledge to remain in-state despite his early endorsement for Donald Trump, Sweeney may have been right.
“The governor is always the most important figure in any negotiation involving legislation in New Jersey. The system is designed that way,” Dworkin said. “The less involved he is, the less likely we’ll see some kind of agreement.
“Even a lame duck governor has more of an ability to broker a deal than almost anybody else.”