Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto is being urged by Governor Chris Christie, who says time is running out for Atlantic City, to let his chamber vote on a pair of aid bills for the struggling resort area.
Governor Christie says he has a bipartisan agreement with Senate President Steve Sweeney on legislation to take over the resort city’s finances and in lieu of taxes allowing its casinos to make payments. But unless Christie eliminates a provision letting the state cancel public employee contracts, Prieto won’t be sending the measure up for vote in the Assembly. Brian Murray, a spokesman for the governor said, “With the clock ticking, the Assembly speaker continues to play public sector union politics at the expense of the residents of Atlantic City and Atlantic County,” according to the Associated Press. Murray said Prieto needs to end the games and post the bill. Editorials over the weekend in the Press of Atlantic City and the Star-Ledger of Newark urging a vote on the aid package in the Assembly were also cited by Murray.
Christie’s comments were called “more juvenile gamesmanship by the governor” by Prieto spokesman Tom Hester, adding that Prieto has said for a long time that the Governor already has more than enough power to impose changes onto Atlantic City. Sweeney and Prieto are both Democrats.
According to the city, money will run out on April 8th, at which time police and firefighters will begin being paid with IOU’s. Known for its casinos, iconic Boardwalk, and wide beaches the city is dealing with a severe financial crisis, one that is being made worse by the contraction of the casino industry, its largest taxpayer. Of the city’s 12 casinos, only eight remain after four went out of business in 2014. Saying that over decades Atlantic City has spent its way into trouble, Christie and other critics vow they will not keep bailing the city out by writing checks.
The tug-of-war coincided with northern New Jersey Democrats and Assembly members, Ralph Caputo and Valerie Vainieri Huttle, calling on Governor Christie to negotiate a resolution to the city’s financial crisis with Prieto and others. If any changes are made to the bills Christie says he will veto them. However, Caputo made note that one of the bills has been amended by the Senate. The bill allows casinos to back out of the bill, which provides payment-in-lieu-of-taxes if there is an expansion of casinos to the northern New Jersey suburbs. Caputo said, “Speaker Prieto has continuously expressed an interest in sitting down and working out a compromise that still protects Atlantic City’s future without trampling on the rights of the public workers who put their life on the line every day,” said Caputo, “The governor should take him up on this offer.”