Is taking over Atlantic City a good idea for NJ?
Earlier this week, with Atlantic City continuing to have major fiscal problems, state Senate President Steve Sweeney announced he was introducing legislation that would allow the state to take over operations of the city's finances.
The measure would allow state officials to sell off city assets, including the former Bader Field airport site, in an effort to raise badly needed cash.
Most Atlantic City officials have indicated they don’t want to get involved in a knockout, drag out fight, but Atlantic County Freeholder Ernest Coursey told the Associated Press the city should not adopt “a plantation mentality, and “it will be a cold day in hell before we stand idly by" for a hostile takeover.
Meanwhile, Atlantic City Council President Marty Small told the Associated Press, “We’re not going to be bullied and we’re not going to be intimidated. “
Experts believe all of the tough talk and finger pointing does not bode well for a positive outcome.
According to Marc Pfeiffer, a senior policy fellow and assistant director at the Bloustein Local Government Research Center at Rutgers University, a similar type of takeover being discussed for Atlantic City was attempted in Camden between 2002 and 2010, when the city operated under what was known as the Municipal Rehabilitation and Economic Recovery Act.
“The focus was on economic development, as opposed to improving the operation of the city, and that was one of the real reasons why the law didn’t work very well,” Pfeiffer said.
Pfeiffer stressed it’s going to be very tough for Atlantic City to move forward if local and state officials don’t reach some level of cooperation.
“That’s absolutely necessary in order for the city and the state to try and work this type of situation out because what you're really doing is striking at a core concept of local democracy." Pfeiffer. "You really need to have the elected officials, to some degree, on board and agreeing to cooperate with the process. They don’t have to be 100 percent. They don’t have to acquiesce to everything, but you need something to try to balance out the interest of the state.”
He added that taking over a city is an extreme measure.
Whether or not the state will step in is a long way off from being decided, and while Atlantic City is struggling, it's not on life-support.
“I don’t think it’s too late to help Atlantic City. There are already things happening in the city that are looking up toward improving the economy,” Pfeiffer said.
He said one element that could significantly affect an Atlantic City takeover is the possibility of building two new casinos in North Jersey.
“We really don’t what the impact of that will be on the remaining casinos in Atlantic City. We’re not sure what’s going to happen there. That may make things a lot worse,” he said.
Pfeiffer also said any successful takeover will not only have to include economic development measures and initiatives, but also a downsizing of city government and significant cost cutting.
“It’s also important to remember once the state steps in and takes responsibility it now has accountability for making it work as well. We’ve learned it’s easy to put words on paper to say what will happen, but it’s a lot harder to execute that,” Pfeiffer said.