Bill would extend N.J. takeover of Atlantic City for four more years

The Atlantic City, N.J. beachfront

This July 9, 2018 photo shows the Atlantic City, N.J. beachfront. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

New Jersey is moving to extend the state takeover of Atlantic City for four more years, elongating a saga that Gov. Phil Murphy vowed during his campaign that he would end.

Lawmakers on Wednesday approved legislation to keep the state in control of the resort town’s finances until 2025. The initial five-year oversight period was set to end this year.

It came after Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who leads the state takeover in her capacity as commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, told lawmakers during a budget hearing that an extension would be necessary.

“This is a way to continue with the takeover, but also to give back little steps by little steps,” said Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic. “Hopefully, as we move forward, Atlantic City at the end of this nine years will be ready to be self-governed.”

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The Assembly State and Local Government Committee approved the bill in a 6-0 vote.

The proposal would also reinstate for public workers some civil service protections and arbitration rights that were eliminated when the state initially assumed control of the city in 2016 under former Gov. Chris Christie.

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John Varallo, president of the Atlantic City Professional Firefighters IAFF L198, said it would mean the union could negotiate, not just for pay increases, but also additional safety measures.

“This bill allows us to get back to the table and to fight, in a fair forum, for the things that matter to us most,” Varallo said.

Murphy said during his campaign that he disagreed with the state takeover of Atlantic City but never ended it once he took office, though he vowed to work with city officials as a partner instead of “bigfooting” them.

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