A financial assistance package considered essential to help stabilize Atlantic City’s struggling casino market has once again been rejected via “pocket veto” by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The measures vetoed include the conditional changes Christie demanded back in November when he vetoed them the first time.
In a statement on Tuesday, Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian said, “If the state is not able to come up with the funding we need within the next few weeks, we will have no choice but to declare bankruptcy.” Appointed by Christie a year ago, the city’s emergency manager, Kevin Lavin, said in a report on Friday that by April the city’s cash flow would be depleted without the revenues generated by the package. Competition from neighboring states has eroded Atlantic City’s onetime dominance over East Coast gambling and pushed what once was a gambling hub into state financial oversight. Atlantic City’s tax base has been battered by the closing of four of 12 casinos in 2014. By Tuesday’s deadline no action had been taken by the Republican presidential candidate on the three bills, rendering them rejected.
Changes to the legislation requested by Christie included allowing the city’s eight surviving properties to make fixed payments in lieu of taxes for the next 15 years, adding some level of stability to the city’s property tax base which is dwindling rapidly. Bills that had been passed in June by the legislature that would have diverted gambling revenue to the city were also changed by Christie and returned to the legislature. Those funds were counted on by the city to help narrow this year’s $101 million deficit.
Comments made by Christie on Saturday while campaigning in Iowa were referred to by the governor’s office when asked why the bills were vetoed by Christie, “If I don’t think the total package makes sense, I won’t (sign it),” he said, according to the remarks. The bills will have to be reintroduced by legislative leaders, who propose taking over the city, if they want to keep the push alive. The former Democratic mayor of Atlantic City, state Senator Jim Whelan, said, “New Jersey has joined ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ Gov. Christie has vetoed his own bills,” adding, “The Legislature concurred with his version of the bills, and now he is bizarrely vetoing them. Clearly, our ‘tell it like it is’ governor does not mean what he says.”
Atlantic City is left in an even more dire financial position because of Christie’s veto, and could further aid elected officials in their push for a state takeover of the resort. A likely Democratic candidate for the governor’s office next year, State Senate President Steve Sweeney, who originally championed the legislation, has now introduced a bill that would allow for a takeover of Atlantic City’s operations, including making major decisions such as selling off land and city assets.