New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is pressing Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto to support an Atlantic City intervention bill approved by the State Senate, saying failure to do so could lead to a bankruptcy of the gambling hub.
Prieto, D-Secaucus, has expressed opposition to "The Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act" because it would empower New Jersey's Local Finance Board to renegotiate contracts of Atlantic City workers for up to five years. The legislation would also allow the state to alter outstanding municipal debt and reorganize or consolidate government operations to achieve cost savings. The state Senate also approved companion legislation that would enable the city's eight remaining casinos to make payments in lieu of taxes over a 10-year period and Christie made clear Tuesday he will not support changes to either bill.
"If both bills do not come to my desk in exactly their current form, I will not sign them," said Christie during a news conference Tuesday in Monmouth County. "If the legislature were to just send me the PILOT bill, I will not sign it. And if what that means is that Atlantic City goes bankrupt then go to Vincent Prieto's office and ask him why."
Atlantic City Mayor Donald Guardian announced Monday that the city will shut down "non-essential" government services for at least three weeks starting April 8 because of the city's desperate cash flow position. He said the shutdown is needed so the city can pay its county taxes and make a $600,000 debt service payment. A report from Moody's Investors Service on March 9 said Atlantic City could default as soon as April absent state assistance.
"I am not opening the treasury of the state of New Jersey to people who cannot manage their affairs responsibly," said Christie. "I am no longer going to allow the taxpayers of the state of New Jersey to be responsible for the irresponsible decisions made by mayors before Mayor Guardian and councils, and put a Band-Aid on this issue."
The Atlantic City Council was set to discuss seeking bankruptcy protection from the state in late January before reaching an agreement with Christie and State Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, on an intervention plan. Guardian has since opposed the plan, referring to it as "fascist" in a Feb. 22 press conference.
Prieto criticized Christie in response to Tuesday's remarks emphasizing that the Republican governor has already vetoed bills that could have helped Atlantic City.
"If the Assembly decides to move a bill and the governor vetoes it, then it's entirely the governor's fault, once again," said Prieto in a statement. "The fact of the matter is the governor already has the authority to help Atlantic City avoid financial catastrophe, and collective bargaining agreements must be protected."