More payments from casinos in revised Atlantic City aid bill
New Jersey lawmakers are asking for more from Atlantic City's casinos under a tax assistance bill that underwent last-minute changes in the state Legislature.
The state Legislature passed changes to a bill at the heart of an Atlantic City aid package Tuesday, which lets the casinos make payments instead of taxes. The measure is known as the PILOT bill for "payment in lieu of taxes."
The bill requires the casinos to make $50 million in additional payments over seven years, and would share 13.5 percent of the money collected from the casinos with Atlantic County's government and the city's schools to help prevent tax increases for those entities.
It also includes other revenue streams other than gambling when calculating how much the casinos owe, which effectively sets a collective minimum of $120 million per year for the eight casinos.
It also sets a goal of securing $10 million for economic development projects for the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, and $8 million to continue marketing and tourism advertising for the resort after the abolition of the Atlantic City Alliance, which spent $30 million a year on that task.
"This makes it more fair for everyone, all the taxpayers, instead of just a handful of casinos," said Assemblyman Chris Brown, an Atlantic City-area Republican who had suggested many of the changes.
The changes were surprising given that the aid package had already passed the full Legislature and presumably was awaiting action by Gov. Chris Christie.
"Approving it now represents certainty for Atlantic City and Atlantic County's hard-working middle class families, seniors and small businesses who have been crushed by casino tax appeals over the last decade," said Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, an Atlantic City-area Democrat.
But Sen. James Whelan, the former Democratic mayor of Atlantic City, said the bill gives an undue windfall to Atlantic County, while leaving less for an already cash-strapped city.
"How is this fair?" he asked. "If Atlantic City takes a haircut, everyone should take a haircut."
The bill also specifies that casino additions built after the measure is passed will be taxed at full value and not at a reduced rate called for in the bill. Sen. Diane Allen, a south Jersey Republican, said that could discourage smaller casinos from investing in their properties.
"It's a knife in the heart of the primary businesses in Atlantic City," she said.
And that is only one aspect of the tremors suddenly rocking Atlantic City. Senate president Steve Sweeney could introduce a bill as early as Tuesday afternoon that would let the state take over Atlantic City's finances.
Sweeney told reporters Monday night such a bill was a possibility, and warned that the city cannot keep coming to the state seeking financial help. He said the city should sell assets including the former Bader Field airport site, and its municipal water company to raise money to help dig itself out of a financial hole.
Sweeney also said state lawmakers are growing tired of aid requests from the struggling gambling resort, which is already under the supervision of an emergency manager appointed by Christie.
"There's Atlantic City fatigue in this building," Sweeney said Monday night.
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