Whelan and Guardian Go Head to Head on Takeover Bills at AC Forum

Guardian and Whelan
Guardian and Whelan

As Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) and Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D-32) approach a compromise on the fate of Atlantic City this week, that conflict over competing plans to have the state take over the city’s finances dominated the discussion at the South Jersey Chamber of Commerce’s Future of Atlantic City forum. State Senator Jim Whelan (D-2) debated sitting mayor Don Guardian over the merits of each proposal Tuesday. Sweeney and Prieto will meet and to try to come to a compromise later this week.

Whelan said in his remarks to the crowd that he believes the Speaker knows his version won’t pass. Despite a flood of support from other North Jersey Democrats for his opposition to the version sponsored by Sweeney and favored by Republican Governor Chris Christie, Whelan believes the lack of an Assembly vote this week puts the lie to Prieto’s perceived victory. Prieto refused to post the Sweeney bill in the Assembly during its last session.

“He doesn’t have the votes,” Whelan said to the crowd. “One of the things you learn in this business and early on, you’ve got to be able to count. He doesn’t have 41. If he had 41, if Speaker Prieto had 41 votes, he would post the bill, get the bill passed and do so.”

“The city’s position, frankly, seems to be to preserve their power and their influence and their ability to run the city. And perhaps if I were still the mayor that’s the position I would take,” Whelan said, calling the Sweeney version of the takeover bill the only alternative to default. “The priority here should be to avoid bankruptcy.”

Whelan called Sweeney’s Senate version more fiscally responsible and more likely to pass. Prieto’s proposal would offer the city two more years of benchmarks of additional before the state takes steps like breaking union contracts or forcing the city to privatize its water authority.

Objecting to the $40 million share Prieto’s bill would give to the county over ten years and what he called its lack of meaningful incentives for early retirement, Whelan said that the city officials are grasping at straws by insisting on a less rigorous plan.

Key components of the Sweeney bill would include early retirement buyouts for high-earning city workers and an immediate mandate that the city privatize its water. Pointing to Guardian and the city council’s decision not to privatize the authority before the takeover effort began, Whelan predicted a chilly reception up in the north if the city puts off that decision again.

“How do you go to Bayonne, or Jersey City, or some of the other communities that have taken this painful step of privatizing their water, and say ‘we’re broke, we need your help?’” Whelan asked.

“I love the Prieto bill, I hate the Sweeney bill,” Guardian said before adding that he is willing to compromise with Prieto and Sweeney, as well as Sweeney’s Assembly ally Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-6). Sweeney and Greenwald offered a 130-day reprieve from the Senate version of the takeover bill taking effect last week.

“That could be additional authority that the state has immediately, or a much shorter timetable,” the mayor added of the concessions he is willing to make on benchmarks. Whelan and Guardian Go Head to Head on Takeover Bills at AC Forum