As Atlantic City veers closer to bankruptcy and Governor Chris Christie continues to insist on a state takeover of the city’s finances, one source in the Assembly said Tuesday that Speaker Vince Prieto (D-32), Christie’s staunchest opponent on the issue, will be presenting a counter-offer to Middlesex Assembly Democrats to devise an alternative to the legislation. Prieto has pushed back against provisions of the takeover legislation allowing the state to break public union contracts and said he will not post the bill.
The counter-offer will contain greater collective bargaining protections for public sector workers, in keeping with Prieto’s longstanding arguments countering South Jersey’s AC intervention plans, according to the source.
Prieto, the source said, will follow through on that promise when the lower house meets this Thursday, despite Christie attacking him in the press and putting additional pressure on the Atlantic City by mounting a lawsuit against its municipal government Monday. According to the source, in advance of Prieto’s courtship, allies of Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-6) had unsuccessfully attempted to get Middlesex Democrats to join South Jersey Dems’ statement of support for putting the takeover to a vote.
The Speaker is expected to imminently release information on the opposing legislation. If he succeeds in getting the Middlesex Democrats on his side – a big if, his detractors point out – he will have solidified his support against takeover sponsor Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3). Christie has repeatedly called Prieto’s refusal to post the bill an act of patronage for Sweeney’s anticipated rival in the 2017 gubernatorial race, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.
With a Northern coalition to rival Sweeney’s southern bloc, Prieto would put himself closer to having the votes to pass an alternative bill. Whether Christie follows through with his threats to veto any altered takeover bill and withdraw his support for North Jersey casino expansion or not, Prieto may be on the cusp of giving himself and Fulop a sizable political victory.
That’s the conclusion drawn by his fiercest allies.
But those on the other side of this fight not surprisingly see it differently, and note that Prieto making a presentation to Middlesex does not constitute Middlesex signing onto his version of a bill. Middlesex, in essence, is still up in the air.
Moreover, Prieto, a source added, would still be three votes short.