Shape up or we’re coming in and taking over. That’s the message to Atlantic City officials from State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D- West Deptford), who’s introducing a measure that would give the state the power to assume control of AC’s finances.

The former Showboat casino in Atlantic City
The former Showboat casino in Atlantic City (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

“This is a very clear statement to Atlantic City: Get your act together, knock off the BS, and start addressing what you need to address,” Sweeney said. “The state is not going to come in and bail you out anymore, you need to fix this.”

According to Sweeney, Atlantic City is broke, but the city is sitting on some very valuable assets while doing nothing.

“It’s like your house is in foreclosure and you’re not willing to liquidate any assets to help,” he said. “It’s time Atlantic City got it’s act in order, when you have a budget of $262 million for 40,000 people, that is outrageous, so they have to find a way to run government more efficiently.”

Sweeney stressed the issue is all about moving the town forward.

“It’s not being paralyzed because no one wants to change anything,” he said. “You know it’s really nice when you don’t have to change because you think the state is going to bail you out. They’re not doing what they need to do, they have cars, they said they got rid of them but they still drive cars, you know it’s like a 56-block town, why do council people need cars? They have pension payments for lifeguards.”

The Senate president also said “that might have been fine in the heyday when casinos were booming and money was no object, but you can’t expect the state of New Jersey to step in when there’s decisions that have to be made locally first, there’s going to be a solution one way or another.”

The bottom line, said Sweeney, is “no one has been a bigger champion for AC than me and Senator Whalen in this house, I’m a stronger supporter and a strong backer of Atlantic City, I’ve fought to protect its casino interests, but they have to do something themselves, and you know, they haven’t done enough they haven’t gone far enough and they need to be more dramatic. We’ve stopped the bleeding, but how are you going to fix it now?”

South Jersey state Senator Jim Whelan (D-Northfield) does not support the idea of a takeover.

“Are there things the city can do? Yeah can always tighten up and so on, but the fact of the matter is they’ve cut 60 million dollars, that’s not an insignificant amount of money,” he said.

He said the city government and the board of education both have fiscal monitors, and every dime  that’s spent is approved by those monitors.

“Things can be improved, but I’m not sure that there’s a magic panacea with a state takeover,” he says.

When asked why a takeover would be a bad thing, Whelan said if the state goes into Atlantic City and tells local leaders “you don’t have a say in how your government is run, that’s not exactly what James Madison and Jefferson and the boys had in mind way back when I don’t’ think.”

When Sweeney was asked how much more time AC would be given to move things forward, Sweeney said “we’re going to give them a chance.”

He added “this is nothing that they didn’t know wasn’t coming, only someone that has their head buried in the sand could not imagine that something has to be done there, I gave verbal warnings in the past that there had to be dramatic changes in Atlantic City. But you know something, if they’re not going to fix their house, then they might as well, the Governor has talked about bankruptcy in the past, then they might as well file bankruptcy.”

Sweeney’s announcement comes after the New Jersey Legislature green-lighted a new measure that calls for Atlantic City's casinos to pay more money to the state instead of paying so much in taxes.

A plan is also moving forward to allow two casinos to be built in North Jersey.

Meanwhile Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian seemed to be stunned by what Sweeney proposed.

He called the announcement “Atlantic City's Pearl Harbor," and added “it sounds like an occupying force coming down, we didn't declare war on anyone; we're not Japan or the Confederacy. We just don't understand.”

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