As Atlantic City approaches default on its debts, the two houses of the legislature are still trying to reach a compromise on competing bills to have the state take over the city’s finances. The bill from Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D-32) stands to push back against the version sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) and favored by Governor Chris Christie. Prieto stands to delay the takeover by two years and remove key provisions of the Senate bill if he can get 41 votes in the Assembly.
Though Prieto has allies in North Jersey on his side and the likely fealty of the Middlesex delegation, only 34 Assembly lawmakers have gone on the record as supporting his bill. Sources said Thursday that a compromise or an Assembly vote won’t come until the week after next.
Sweeney and Prieto met Wednesday to reach a compromise on the terms of the takeover, but Sweeney said they made no progress. Following that meeting, Prieto said that the Senate President’s previous compromise of a 130-day reprieve “does not equate to significant movement.”
Christie, who has said that he will consider changes to the version passed in the Senate, questioned the viability of Prieto’s bill.
“You can’t say you have an alternative when you haven’t passed it out of your own house,” Christie said.
Prieto was quick to fire back, saying “no one person in a democracy should be in charge of a government the way Gov. Christie wants to control Atlantic City. We don’t do dictatorships.”
Prieto’s plan would offer the city additional benchmarks before allowing the state to take steps like selling off city assets and breaking union contracts with city workers. It would also appoint members of the municipal government to a committee with members of the administration to make those decisions. The Sweeney bill would mandate that the city take those steps within a year of that 130-day grace period.
Senator Jim Whelan (D-2), himself the former mayor of Atlantic City and a reluctant supporter of the Sweeney-led effort, called the lack of a vote since Prieto’s bill cleared committee a sign that it won’t pass.
“He doesn’t have 41,” Whelan said earlier this week. “If he had 41, if Speaker Prieto had 41 votes, he would post the bill, get the bill passed and do so.”
While Sweeney has been notably subdued in the time since Prieto announced his bill, Christie has called the Assembly version an attempt to damage the Senate President politically in his gubernatorial bid against Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop. With Fulop having come out out against the takeover in the press, his influence with North Jersey Assembly members who are on the fence could be crucial if Prieto is to rack up those 7 missing votes.