New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, floated an alternative proposal aimed at saving Atlantic City from insolvency that sets additional benchmarks for the distressed gambling hub before his previously-proposed state intervention would take effect.
Sweeney along with State Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Wood Ridge, and Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, D-Lindenwold, announced Wednesday a compromise bill that if approved would allow Atlantic City 130 days to plug its $102 million deficit. The legislation would require that the city, which is close to running out of cash flow, cuts its current spending per capita from $6,700 to $3,500. Failure to meet this metric would mean a bill proposed by Sweeney and passed by the State Senate would be implemented that empowers New Jersey’s Local Finance Board to renegotiate outstanding debt and municipal contracts for as long as five years.
“This plan gives Atlantic City the opportunity to use all the tools at their disposal to finally reduce spending and reform government operations before the state asserts control over its municipal finances,” Sweeney said in a statement. “For years the Atlantic City government has made bold assertions regarding its ability to solve the problem. Despite those assertions, no solutions have ever been implemented in a material way. Our proposal gives the city one last chance.”
Atlantic City was faced with running out of cash on April 8 prompting it to implement a 28-day pay period to allow time for May tax revenue to arrive to fund the next paychecks. Moody’s Investors Service slashed the city’s junk-level bond rating two notches to Caa3 on April 4, citing default concerns.
Gov. Chris Christie has pushed for the assembly to follow the senate’s leader in passing the state takeover legislation and has said he will not sign a companion bill that provides payments-in-lieu of tax (PILOT) funds from casinos absent this power. State Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Secaucus, proposed a bill last week – opposed by Christie – that would give a five-member committee increased control if certain benchmarks aren’t met within a year. Prieto said in response to Sweeney’s proposal he is pleased by the “step toward compromise,” but still has collective bargaining concerns.
“This proposal seemingly doesn’t resolve the concerns about eviscerating collective bargaining, fair labor practices and the civil liberties of the people of Atlantic City,” Prieto said in a statement. “Those core concerns must be addressed for any proposal to be taken seriously.”
Atlantic City Mayor Donald Guardian said late Wednesday that Prieto’s bill is “the most pragmatic” approach, but he remains open to finding a solution. He has been staunchly opposed to the previous state takeover legislation and has urged lawmakers to instead solely pass the PILOT bill.
“We have enormous problems with legacy costs and debt service from previous tax appeals and other debts that must be addressed over the long-term,” said Guardian in a statement. “I am completely open to compromise and working together to find a solution, but it must be within a reasonable and practical framework.”
A Christie spokesman declined to comment on Sweeney’s new Atlantic City proposal.