Atlantic City’s future became a bit more clear this past week when a bailout-type package of bills gained approval from the Assembly Judiciary Committee and the Senate.
If the city cannot draft a balanced 2017 budget as well as a solvent five-year plan, then, according to several sources, the city’s finances will be taken over by the state. Hence, the bill is known as a “takeover bill.” It passed 60-12-1.
Also included in the approved bills are plans to channel casino earnings toward property taxes for those casinos (known as the “PILOT” bill).
It also says that Atlantic City will be exempt from property taxes, paying a predetermined $120 million installment for the next five years.That sum will increase at 2 percent per year, the bill says.
The bills now head to Governor Chris Christie’s desk, where they will either be signed into law or vetoed.
Sweeney happy to reach an agreement
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who earlier in the week expressed an optimistic outlook for Atlantic City, was relieved the Senate approved the bills.
In a meeting with press after the vote, Sweeney expressed his frustration that the bill took so long to be passed. He went on to say it’s time the city moves ahead and repairs its budget.
“We need to move forward,” Sweeney said. “Atlantic City needs to get moving and fix their problems.”
Mayor pleased with the result
Atlantic City Mayor Dick Guardian and his city council will be responsible for drafting a budget. Guardian told reporters after the Senate vote this past Thursday that he was excited about Memorial Day weekend and looks forward to getting back to work on Tuesday.
“(We’re) excited to open the Jersey Shore this Memorial Day weekend,” Guardian said. “(The new bill) puts the onus back on the elected officials locally to find a solution, and, starting on Tuesday, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
Atlantic City’s financial struggles
Four of the city’s 12 casinos closed in 2014 and its financial woes have resulted in a roughly $550 million debt.
The bill explains the reason behind the city’s downfall: Pennsylvania.
“For over 30 years, casinos grew and profited in the City of Atlantic City,” the bill reads, “until competition from other states in our region, particularly Pennsylvania, siphoned off much of the out-of-State and foreign gamblers who had frequented Atlantic City casinos for many years.”
City and state battled back and forth
Lawmakers have responded with several bills, only one of which, S1715, has succeeded in making it to the governor’s desk. For the past year, the Press of Atlantic City reports, the city and state have been sparring back and forth about who should control the financial recovery.
The Wall Street Journal weighed in on the issue Monday, pointing out that Gov. Chris Christie wants state control of the city, while Mayor Don Guardian wants to protect the city from state control and leave decisions in his hands and those of his Atlantic City colleagues.
This interesting “competition” will no doubt add intrigue to Christie’s decision about the Atlantic City bills.