North Jersey casino backer ‘trying to resurrect’ interest in expansion
Billions in investment, hundreds of millions in taxes, the culmination of a years-long contemplation of casinos in North Jersey. Given the stakes, Assemblyman Ralph Caputo is a bit surprised there’s not been more attention paid to this year’s gaming-expansion ballot question.
Adding to the intrigue is that the question faces an uphill climb. Even Caputo acknowledges that.
“I think it’s going to be difficult,” said Caputo, D-Essex.
Less than eight weeks remain until Election Day, and Caputo is looking to steer the conversation by introducing a resolution at Thursday’s Assembly session that details which programs and municipal governments would get a boost in funding from the taxes paid by the new casinos.
The numbers politicians are throwing around appear to be pulled completely out of thin air.
Some of those details have been known since March. What still isn’t clear, and won’t be clarified by Caputo’s resolution, is what tax rate the North Jersey casinos would pay. And that’s vital information. Slices of pie are nice, but it helps to know the size of the pie itself.
“We’re trying to resurrect it,” Caputo said. “Hopefully we get some enabling legislation as an outcome of this resolution. That’s what my real objective is, and specifically the tax rate that we haven’t talked about, because that has to be done. Because we have to tell the public exactly why we’re doing this and what would be the purpose of enacting this constitutional amendment.”
A wide spectrum of possible tax rates have been mentioned in the debate over the casinos, from 15 percent to 60 percent. Atlantic City casinos pay 9.25 percent. Caputo said the rate in North Jersey would be higher and hinted it would be tied to the value of the casinos being built.
“What we’re going to drop Thursday, we’re just talking about a higher tax rate. That has to be negotiated based upon the type of properties that would be approved,” Caputo said.
There’s no guarantee the tax rate will be known before the public votes Nov. 8.
“I would like to see that happen. Hopefully it will be,” Caputo said.
That’s a major problem in a flawed plan, say groups fighting the proposal.
“Supporters continue to make promises that are not grounded in fact or reality,” said Debra DiLorenzo, chairwoman of the No North Jersey Casinos Coalition.
“How can Assemblyman Caputo deliver a detailed plan for revenue distribution on nonexistent tax rates and when no real economic examination has ever taken place? The numbers politicians are throwing around appear to be pulled completely out of thin air,” said Bill Cortese, executive director of Trenton’s Bad Bet.
Trenton’s Bad Bet has been running TV ads and sending out mailers opposed to the casino expansion. The group seems to have gotten a head start on a rival organization, Our Turn NJ, that backs the plan.
“I think in the next four, five weeks if people understand why this is being done and the fact that there’s millions of dollars being spent by out-of-state corporations and maybe out-of-the-country corporations, to retain what they have in New York and Pennsylvania, I think people would rather see that money being spent here in New Jersey,” Caputo said.
“We’ve got to make a decision in Jersey, whether or not we’re going to stay in the gaming business and also provide some revenue and resources for Atlantic City to rebuild themselves in the nongaming area,” Caputo said.
Projections of how much money Atlantic City stands to receive depend, of course, on the tax rate casinos in North Jersey would pay. If the casinos paid a total of $500 million in taxes, around $200 million would go toward Atlantic City redevelopment, according to the formula included in the legislation passed in March putting the public question on the ballot.
The constitutional amendment would allow two casinos to be built in North Jersey. The locations haven’t been identified; the resolution Caputo plans to introduce Thursday would include guidance. There are proposals for casinos in the Meadowlands and Jersey City.
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