As the two sides in the legislative debate over a state takeover of Atlantic City negotiate on a compromise between two dueling bills from Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) and Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D-32), the gaming capital’s state Senator said Monday that he places the blame squarely on the city’s shoulders for not approaching Sweeney with a counter-proposal weeks ago. Mayor Don Guardian and members of the city council have allied themselves with Prieto in pushing for two more years before the state takes over the city’s finances.
The iron was hot, Whelan said, when Sweeney offered the city 130 and then 195 days to cut municipal spending by half to avoid the takeover plan laid out in his successful Senate bill. Pointing to Sweeney’s reduction of the term of the takeover from 15 years to five, his allowing the city a year squeeze savings or profitability out of its water authority, and the Senate bill’s provisions offering pensioned early retirement programs rather than layoffs, he characterized the city as unwilling to offer any meaningful trade-off.
“Give us a counter-proposal. You don’t like four months, come back and say ‘We can’t live on four months, we need eight months,’ and settle at six. This isn’t hard. This is what happens in the political world. It’s called negotiaton, it’s called compromise,” Whelan said. “The next day you put a counter-proposal on the table. That’s how this business works.”
With Governor Chris Christie unlikely to pass Prieto’s alternative, Whelan believes that this week’s halting negotiations are only putting the city more at risk. Prieto’s statement earlier today that bankruptcy should still be an option for Atlantic City, he said, undermines the purpose of the Assembly’s takeover talks between Prieto on one side and Sweeney’s ally Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-6) on the other, and of the long effort to pass the accompanying PILOT legislation.
“The whole point of this exercise for a year and a half has been to try to avoid bankruptcy.” “The governor has made it very clear that he will veto the bill.
“Bankruptcy has always been on the table, it’s always loomed there,” Whelan said, adding that the mere possibility of default and bankruptcy is already discouraging businesses and tourists from coming to a city where essential services like police and fire are under threat from lack of funding. “That’s the worst of all the bad options. We are in the tourist business. We are in a business that is very competitive to get conventions and trade shows and events to come here.”