Phil Murphy promises to end NJ takeover of Atlantic City if elected
ATLANTIC CITY — Phil Murphy, the leading candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination next year, said he'll cancel the state takeover of Atlantic City if he is elected.
Speaking Friday in the seaside gambling resort where he received the endorsement of Democratic political leaders and African-American clergy, Murphy said he would end the state takeover that was instituted on Wednesday.
Republican Gov. Chris Christie's administration seized power over Atlantic City's assets and major decision-making power after determining the city is unable to make the hard choices needed to stabilize its finances and pay off its half-billion dollar debt.
Murphy says an austerity plan proposed by the city should be given a chance to work.
"You have to find a better solution," he said. "As opposed to bigfooting the community, I'd be working with the community."
The takeover approved by the state Local Finance Board gives its chairman the right to overturn decisions by the City Council, hire and fire employees, terminate union contracts and sell city-owned assets including the former Bader Field airport property and the city's much-coveted water works.
A plan by Atlantic City to try to stave off a takeover called for layoffs, spending cuts, and the sale of Bader Field to the city's water utility, keeping both prized assets in public hands.
Murphy said that plan can form the basis of a financial turnaround for Atlantic City but acknowledged more work needs to be done, including settling a tax appeal case with the Borgata casino that could cost the city $150 million or more. He also said more study needs to be given to the legality of the bond sale that would enable the city's water utility to buy Bader Field.
The city's financial strife is largely due to the decline of gambling. Atlantic City has seen five of its 12 casinos close since 2014, taxes have more than doubled over the last six years and the city's base of taxable property has declined by two-thirds in recent years.
In 2006, Atlantic City's casinos took in $5.2 billion; last year that had fallen to $2.56 billion. When times were good and casino money was flowing, that was enough to support the city's spending. But now, not even major cuts are enough to ward off a takeover.
Murphy, the multi-millionaire former executive with Goldman Sachs who has elbowed most potential Democratic opposition out of the way a year before the election, said New Jersey has a dismal record in taking over school systems and struggling cities.
"Show me the evidence where it's been successful and where the people of the community have benefited," he said. "I don't see the evidence."
He promises "a SWAT team from Trenton" that will help the city, not overpower it.
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