Senate president unveils plan for Atlantic City’s future
Atlantic City has been a great part of New Jersey's history and immediate steps must be taken to make sure it has a great future, State Sen. President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) said Monday.
Sweeney was joined by State Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Northfield) and Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-Northfield) during a press conference in Trenton. They unveiled a sweeping plan to address what they called Atlantic City's emergency fiscal crisis. The announcement came two days before a scheduled summit on the future of the resort town.
"Atlantic City basically has been hit by an economic hurricane," Sweeney said. "Eight thousand people have lost their jobs and we are dealing with a very serious fiscal problem and one thing we don't want is for Atlantic City to become Detroit."
Among other things, the proposal would authorize casinos to make Payments In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) in the amount of $150 million for the first two years. Sweeney said that would provide financial certainty to the casinos, the city and the school system.
The plan would also redirect the Investment Alternative Tax (IAT) to pay down the city's debt at an amount of approximately $25 million to $30 million annually, which in turn, would save residents about the same amount each year, Sweeney estimated. He called the proposed bill package a first step. The lawmakers said the money is already in an account now as surplus.
"We're going to do a lot of things to help Atlantic City, but if you don't structurally fix the problems underneath then whatever you do on top isn't going to work. The structural problems that exist in Atlantic City, you've got to fix them first then you can move upward," Sweeney said.
The plan also calls for cutting administrative costs in Atlantic City through the state's Transitional Aid powers, and a Memorandum of Understanding with the City. The state would also have to play a role in ensuring financial stability for the school system, which would include oversight.
"I think that these bills what they represent is a short-term," said Mazzeo. "The long-term is to see this plan of a resort or a family resort going forward in the next five to seven years or whatever it is. We can stabilize and promote Atlantic City for what we want it to be in the future."
Finally, the proposal would require casinos to provide baseline health care and retirement packages for their workers. A guaranteed mandatory minimum payment in lieu of property taxes would increase the profitability of the casinos and allow them to stay open for business and pay their employees good wages and benefits Sweeney said.
"We've got to stop the bleeding then we'll come and cure the disease. These bills are going to stop the bleeding and then we can come and look at the long-term problems," Whelan explained.
After 15 years, all facets of the plan would sunset and at that time, a special panel would be created to review Atlantic City's situation and plan for its future.
The need for shared services in Atlantic City was also stressed by Sweeney.