Christie: Without Atlantic City takeover, I’ll fight North Jersey casinos
Gov. Chris Christie says he’ll campaign against putting two casinos in North Jersey if the Assembly doesn’t pass legislation giving his administration sweeping powers to take over the local government in near-broke Atlantic City.
Christie held a Statehouse news conference Thursday to again pressure Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Hudson, to permit lawmakers to vote on the legislation, which the Senate already passed 27-9. The speaker objects largely because it would let Christie dissolve and renegotiate contracts with public-worker unions.
Christie, an advocate for North Jersey gaming, says the referendum — which would likely lead to the construction of casinos in Jersey City and the Meadowlands — is going to fail if Atlantic City isn’t rescued. He added that he’ll campaign to help make sure it loses.
“Atlantic City is heading for a disaster and North Jersey gaming is heading for a defeat if we don’t get our act together,” Christie said.
“This situation is ensuring that North Jersey gaming referendum will be defeated this fall. There is no way the people of this state will approve an expansion of gaming when the city government in the only city where gaming is allowed is ready to go down the toilet.”
“If the Atlantic City takeover bill and the PILOT bill are not passed and sent to my desk in their current form, I will oppose North Jersey gaming. And I will use every bit of influence I have to make sure that the referendum is defeated,” he said.
In response, Prieto said “Christie owns the failings of Atlantic City” because the state has had a fiscal monitor overseeing its finances since 2010. And he noted that some tax revenues from the new casinos would be redirected to economic redevelopment in Atlantic City.
“Gov. Christie can campaign as he chooses,” Prieto said. “It wouldn’t be his first flip-flop, and he would just be risking hurting Atlantic City by denying it funding it sorely needs from North Jersey gaming to transition into a resort destination.”
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, who Christie says the mayor is working with Prieto to block the Atlantic City takeover to undercut Senate President Stephen Sweeney in advance of a likely 2017 gubernatorial primary battle, said there’s no substance to that accusation.
“If the governor wants to stop North Jersey gaming as a result of this tantrum as he threatens, that is his choice. It doesn't bother us either way. Jersey City will be just fine,” Fulop said.
Atlantic City’s finances are in trouble in part because the city’s tax base has plunged in value by roughly two-thirds, primarily because of the free-falling casino industry. The city’s tax base was $20.5 billion after a revaluation in 2008 and is now $7.3 billion.
As a result, property taxes have been driven higher and the city is grappling with perpetual, massive budget deficits. This year’s budget was counting on $32.5 million in so-called payments in lieu of taxes from the casinos, but Christie blocked the payments unless the state is given broad powers to reset local finances.
Because of the deficit, Atlantic City’s government expects to run out of cash at the end of next week. Officials plan to shutter most city offices for three weeks. Police officers, firefighters and sanitation workers will continue working and be given IOUs that promise they’ll be paid later.
Without the takeover, Christie said, Atlantic City would start its next budget year with a $30 million to $40 million deficit even if the PILOT bill helps it balance this year’s budget.
And without the takeover, Christie contends, voters won’t allow gaming to destabilize other areas.
“The people of New Jersey are not dumb. If they see a crisis in Atlantic City that’s worsening and worsening and no one’s doing anything, how would they ever approve gaming for the northern part of the state?” he said.
Christie reiterated that he won’t allow Atlantic City to declare bankruptcy, even if the temporary shortage of money the city experiences for about three weeks in April becomes a long-term deficit starting in mid-June.
Christie called Prieto Thursday to arrange a Friday meeting about Atlantic City, and Prieto said he welcomed the call. But Prieto is still holding out hope for a compromise that would give the city time to meet specified financial benchmarks, an idea Christie rejects.