With Atlantic City’s May bond payment looming, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie won’t intervene as the once thriving gambling mecca inches closer to financial ruin and a takeover bill gathers dust in the state Assembly.
The tug of war between Governor Christie and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto continued on Wednesday. Christie said there are enough votes in the chamber to allow passage of the bill that would give control of municipal operations to his administration. After the governor’s press briefing Prieto said that isn’t the case.
Gambling expansion in nearby states has upended the iconic casino resort and now even as the threat of facing bankruptcy or defaulting on its debt edges closer to becoming reality neither has budged. On Monday, Moody’s Investor Service downgraded Atlantic City to “outlook negative.” Christie said he won’t make Atlantic City’s debt payments, as well as declining to talk about the repercussions of default. He said addressing hypothetical cases was “dangerous,” according to Bloomberg. On Tuesday, the city’s rating was cut two levels to Caa3, by Moody’s.
Bills supported by the Senate’s Democratic leader and Christie would provide an economic boost and give New Jersey control over Atlantic City’s operations. Christie has said unless both bills land on his desk together, neither will be signed. He says he needs to be able to negotiate affordable union contracts in order to repair the city’s finances.
Prieto is opposed to allowing the administration make changes to or end contracts and has refused to bring the legislation up for vote. The Secaucus Democrat said a compromise needs to be negotiated by Christie because the existing bill “does not have enough support to pass the Assembly.”
Prieto unveiled his own legislation on Wednesday that aims to help save Atlantic City from financial ruin. The plan rivals the one Christie is pushing for state takeover. Prior to the full Assembly meeting this afternoon, this morning the Assembly’s judiciary committee will consider the measure (A3614) for the first time. Benchmarks would be established by the measure that would have to be met by the city in order to avoid losing control to the state. The rival bill would also allow annual payments to be made by casinos instead of taxes.
After Christie’s press conference at City Hall, Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian held his own. He said that a lot of the information outlined for reporters by Christie was outdated or incorrect, such as the city’s spending.