Sweeney: Four Atlantic City casinos could close without tax help
TRENTON – There’s a risk that four of Atlantic City’s nine casinos could close if changes aren’t made to a 2016 law recalculating the industry’s tax payments, Senate President Steve Sweeney said.
Proposed changes have now cleared a couple of Senate committees since the election, including the budget committee Monday. But the Assembly version of the plan hasn’t been taken up and isn’t listed for consideration when the committee to which the bill was referred meets Thursday.
Sweeney didn’t identify which casinos are at risk if the "payment in lieu of taxes" law isn’t updated in a way that would exempt revenue from sports betting and online gaming from the calculation of what is owed. The bill would reduce the PILOT payments by around one-third, or $55 million, cutting the bills for some casinos while raising them for others.
“We made some mistakes in the PILOT bill,” Sweeney said. “We made some mistakes. We created some big cliffs. If we don’t fix them, we run the risk of closing four casinos.”
Sweeney said the Atlantic City takeover bill that put a state monitor in place is working as intended but that more changes are needed to avoid job losses.
“Are we better collecting less taxes and having more people work?” Sweeney said. “Someone might call me a Republican for that.”
The bill advanced easily, with only Sen. Sam Thompson, R-Middlesex, opposed. Assemblyman-elect Don Guardian, R-Atlantic, a former Atlantic City mayor, also spoke against the bill, saying any alterations midway through the 10-year PILOT plan shifts the tax burden to other Atlantic County residents.
“With casinos paying less, everyone else will pay more,” Guardian said.
In all, three bills related to Atlantic City advanced. One would levy an additional $3 a night surcharge on all stays in casino hotels, with the revenue going toward public safety services in the city.
The state takeover damaged collective bargaining in Atlantic City, said state Policemen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Colligan, who said more cuts have been imposed on top of a 20% salary reduction the local union had negotiated.
“As a result, my members make on average $12,000 less and are working with far fewer officers than they did in 2012,” Colligan said.
Sue Altman, executive director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, questioned why the money would be earmarked solely for police and fire budgets, at a time when she said possibly some of their responsibilities should be redirected to mental-health or social-services agencies.
“And the direction we all should be going is not towards bigger police departments but perhaps smaller police departments with more targeted focuses and bigger budgets in other social service areas,” Altman said.
Sweeney and other lawmakers said crime is a problem in Atlantic City and that more should be done to make visitors safer.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.