Can Atlantic City be saved … by pure political interest?
With less than a week before Atlantic City completely runs out of money and is forced to go into default, there is still no agreement on how to save the town from financial ruin.
Gov. Chris Christie and state Senate President Steve Sweeney are still calling for a state takeover, while Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto still insists AC officials should have more time to work things out.
After not being able to garner enough support in the Lower House for his own AC rescue plan, Prieto still won’t post the Christie-Sweeney legislation for a vote, but he is calling for some kind of a compromise deal, and met Monday with Assembly Majority leader Lou Greenwald behind closed doors.
That meeting apparently did not go well, because there was little if any progress made, and when the discussions wrapped up, all sides began criticizing and insulting each other.
Nevertheless, Montclair State University political science professor Brigid Harrison still believes a compromise deal can be reached.
She suggested an agreement is very important for Christie, “as his own legacy leaving governor of the state of New Jersey, one of the things that he doesn’t want is for Atlantic City to go bankrupt.”
She added it’s also important for Christie, as a big Donald Trump supporter, to make sure AC doesn’t go under because Trump – through his former casinos – is linked to Atlantic City.
She also said an AC agreement is key for Sweeney, “looking ahead as he is to the 2017 gubernatorial elections, I think it’s very important that he comes out of this being able to stand up and say he won politically.”
Harrison stressed Sweeney and Prieto need to sit down and compromise at on least on some issues.
“There’s going to have to be some, you know some people that give up some things and others that give up other things in order to get to some kind of compromise that both chambers will agree to,” she said.
Ben Dworkin, a political science professor at Rider University, stressed “it’s critical they come to an agreement for no other reason than Atlantic City’s future is in the balance.”
He pointed out this city for decades has been the primary economic engine of south Jersey, and even as recently as 10 years ago it directly supported about 40 thousand jobs and an additional 20 jobs indirectly.
“To let it fall apart because people can’t come to an agreement would be a tremendous shame,” he said.
Dworkin believes “despite some of the emotions of this particular moment, they will find a way to make it work.”
After Greenwald and Prieto met behind closed doors, Greenwald released a statement that read:
I'm shocked and outraged at the speaker's comments following our meeting that 'bankruptcy is always the other option,' suggesting that there is no rush in saving Atlantic City. The callous disregard of the reality of bankruptcy to the residents of Atlantic City, Atlantic County and the entire region is appalling. I have made it clear repeatedly that this position is untenable and disastrous.
Truthfully, I thought the speaker understood this but perhaps this was his goal all along. I find it impossible to believe that anyone would show this level of indifference to a city in Hudson County, so I can only speculate about why it is occurring today in Atlantic County.
Time is running out. We are trying to save Atlantic City and protect the families in that region. We need to avoid financial collapse and bankruptcy. If either happens it will be too late.
We need to convene our house and pass the solution that has been offered by the Senate President and myself, which has been the center-point of discussion over the last 4 days - complete with the 150 day proposal to give the Mayor and City Council the time they need in the summer months to reform and stabilize Atlantic City.
A short time later, Prieto issued his own statement:
“Majority Leader Greenwald’s statement does not match what he has said behind closed doors, where I have told him several times that bankruptcy is always a last option. Even Gov. Christie said the same last week. I’ve sought a compromise for weeks, but anyone who feigns shock that bankruptcy is a last resort isn’t being honest with themselves or the public.
It’s also strange that Asm. Greenwald forgets that just days ago the Senate bill received zero support in the Assembly Democratic caucus. Zero support. In fact, the Majority Leader emphasized several times behind closed doors that he wasn’t even asking for that bill to be posted anymore.
The governor of course knows full well the authority at his disposal that he simply refuses to use for whatever reason. We’ve gone over that authority numerous times. Just because the governor says he lacks authority doesn’t make it so.
This afternoon’s attack statements are a curious approach to compromise.
Governor Christie also released a statement about the current stalemate:
The speaker needs to stop making it up as he goes along.
Remarkably, with Atlantic City on the financial brink, Speaker Prieto today cavalierly tossed out yet another hastily thought-out idea, saying: “bankruptcy is always the other option that is out there.”
His refusal to adopt a proposal that would avoid bankruptcy is incredibly irresponsible to the businesses, employees and citizens of Atlantic City as well as to all other taxpayers in New Jersey. He promised us a vote on his flawed plan last week. He failed. We all now await what's next from the Speaker.
Additionally, for months and again today, the Speaker claims that Governor Christie has the power under existing law to step in and avoid financial disaster for Atlantic City and protect the taxpayers of New Jersey. He is wrong.
If the speaker believes such powers exists, then he should provide detailed legal support for his position.
He cannot provide that support because there is none. Moreover, there is no legislation on the Governor’s desk to address Atlantic City’s pending financial ruin because of the Speaker's failures. Time is running out to fix the city’s fiscal problems. Instead of addressing the crisis in Atlantic City, Speaker Prieto continues to obstruct bipartisan efforts to rescue Atlantic City. Stop with the games. Mr. Speaker; do the job you were elected to do.