One of Chris Christie’s last actions as governor set back redevelopment efforts in Atlantic City.

On his final full day in office Monday, Christie pocket-vetoed a bill to establish a Garden State Growth Zone around Atlantic City International Airport. The bill, which passed the legislature on Jan. 8, would have offered tax incentives to spur new business activity within a mile of the airport.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
Chris Christie pocket-vetoed a bill on his final day as New Jersey governor that would have expanded a tax incentive program to the area around Atlantic City International Airport. Bloomberg News

Because the bill was passed in the last 10 days of the legislative session, the governor could veto it without returning it the the Legislature for an override attempt, which is known as a pocket veto.

“I am disappointed that Governor Christie did not sign the Economic Development Bill,” said new Atlantic City Mayor Frank Gilliam in a statement. “This legislation would have given Atlantic City more tools to encourage economic growth.”

Atlantic City is already included in one of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority’s designated growth zones, but the vetoed legislation would have added the airport area to those eligible for incentives.

Gilliam said bill would have changed the net benefits test for developers and eased the requirement to a level that currently only the City of Camden has the benefits of. It also would have permitted gambling projects to quality for tax credits for the first time in New Jersey history.

Gilliam said the Garden State Growth Zone incentives sunset on July 1, 2019, giving the city a limited window for businesses to take advantage of the program and help Atlantic City expand its base. The struggling Jersey Shore gambling hub, which has seen five casino closures since 2014, has faced state control since November 2016 after nearly defaulting on its bonds. The cash-strapped city’s bonds ratings are deep in junk territory at CCC-plus from S&P Global Ratings and Caa3 from Moody’s Investors Service.

“There are many vacant parcels available in Atlantic City that are ideal for business development,” said Gilliam, who noted that NJEDA incentives have created 370 new jobs for the city since the program's implementation in 2013. “My staff will be inventorying sites and are prepared to provide one stop service for developers interested in bringing new jobs to our City.”

State Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Northfield, whose district covers Atlantic City, expressed disappointment at Christie’s veto. The South Jersey lawmaker said he will work closely with newly elected Assemblyman John Armato, D-Buena Vista Township, to craft a new piece of legislation this year that can get signed by the new governor, Phil Murphy.

"Governor Christie's action today has set back months of worthwhile progress made by a coalition of supporters in attracting new businesses, industries, and good paying jobs to our region,” said Mazzeo in a statement. “Nonetheless, we will take Gov. Christie's departing slap in the face to Atlantic County and turn it into action.'”

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