Atlantic City officials gathered outside City Hall on Monday to blow off steam about a new proposal for a state takeover of the gambling resort’s finances, which local officials said went way too far.
“The final piece of legislation that the state presented to us was far from a partnership,” said Mayor Don Guardian, a Republican. “It was much worse. It was absolutely a fascist dictatorship.”
Weeks ago, Guardian stood beside Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic State Sen. President Steve Sweeney to announce their intention to devise a “partnership” among state and local leaders that would fix the city’s finances.
But early Monday afternoon, any previous harmony was jarringly out of tune.
“It breaks every constitutional amendment,” Guardian said of the draft bill made public last week. “It strips the residents of Atlantic City of their civil rights. And it absolutely is an abomination in destroying the collective bargaining agreements.”
Sweeney, who has been spearheading the state’s effort to intervene in Atlantic City, recently announced a new version of the legislation, which would put the state in charge of the city’s finances, including the ability to cancel public worker contracts and sell off city assets, including the water utility.
Atlantic City officials largely acknowledged that the city’s finances were suffering, due to a shrinking tax base and a a suffering casino industry, but maintained that local lawmakers should be allowed to solve that problem themselves.
“Three summits, multiple press conferences, two reports, and an emergency manager later — we’re still in the same position,” said City Council President Marty Small of previous state interventions in the city.
“The state has failed Atlantic City tremendously. And there’s no other way to put it.”
Guardian is shopping around a new, less drastic proposal to unnamed state lawmakers, but Sweeney is already pushing back on the idea.
“This is far too little and way too late,” said Richard McGrath, a spokesman for Sweeney. “The local officials appear to be incapable of recognizing the severity and the immediacy of the fiscal crisis that confronts them and unwilling to take the actions needed to prevent a financial meltdown.”
The time to devise a solution everyone can agree on may be winding down. Due to an ongoing tax appeal with the Borgata, one of the city’s largest casinos, Atlantic City could run out of cash within weeks.
That led Guardian to suggest anew the possibility of declaring municipal bankruptcy, which lawmakers in Trenton oppose.