Following Governor Chris Christie’s comments comparing the speaker’s resistance to the takeover to a “game of chicken” over municipal bankruptcy, Assemblyman John McKeon (D-27) said Thursday that the Assembly should support speaker Vince Prieto (D-32) in opposing the state takeover of Atlantic City.
Christie and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) have called the takeover the gaming capitol’s last, best hope as it faces insolvency by the end of April. But Christie’s expectation that the Assembly accept the deal as-is, McKeon said, shows a lack of respect for the lower house’s autonomy.
“Gov. Christie’s comment that he is “not going to negotiate with two sets of Democrats” displays a complete and utter lack of respect for the General Assembly as an independent, autonomous branch of government,” McKeon wrote in a statement.
Earlier this week Christie accused Prieto of using the takeover issue as a bid for labor support on behalf of Jersey City mayor Steve Fulop, a fellow Hudson Democrat running for the Democratic nomination for governor. Fulop’s administration offered the firm at which McKeon is a partner litigation work worth up to $110,000 in 2013 and 2014. McKeon has said that he doubts Fulop made the connection.
“Every member of the Assembly should stand behind Speaker Prieto to send a message to the Governor that we will not be marginalized because he cannot be bothered to come to the table like an adult and sit down to forge a compromise.”
The takeover bill passed the Senate earlier this month, along with another to offer a payment in lieu of taxes agreement to Atlantic City’s remaining casinos. McKeon believes that bill would offer enough relief without offering the state broad powers to change collective bargaining agreements.
“The governor’s intransigence ignores the fact that the PILOT bill, alone, would give Atlantic City more than adequate resources to continue to allow Mayor Guardian to do the job he needs to do.”
The PILOT bill would aim to stem the city’s losses from a flood of casino property tax appeals and shore up its devastated ratable base. It would guarantee the city pre-determined payments for fiscal year 2015, despite allowing casinos to opt out if voters and the legislature move to expand casino gaming into North Jersey. A ballot question is expected to go to voters this year.
“This ‘my way or the highway’ approach to government has gotten us nowhere,” McKeon continued. “That’s why there’s never been a greater time for members of the Assembly to stand as one.”
Though Prieto said this afternoon at the State House that he will not back down from opposing further union cuts without intermediary benchmarks, Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-6) said Thursday that he will support the takeover after a period of hesitation.