“Telling it like it is” – that’s Chris Christie’s campaign slogan when he’s off trying to collect votes in New Hampshire and South Carolina. But when it comes to seeking answers about his extremely vague plan to rescue Atlantic City, the outspoken governor has gone silent.
It was just a week ago that Christie made a surprise stop in Trenton (on the way to a fundraiser in Philadelphia) where he announced a rescue plan for the struggling Shore resort with a combination of new revenue sources and additional layers of state oversight.The plan has the backing of state Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian. While most view this as a state takeover (Christie said, “You can call it whatever you want”) Guardian prefers to think of it as a “partnership.”Whatever it’s called, it’s not as if Atlantic City doesn’t need Trenton’s help. Since 2007, the city has lost two-thirds of its tax base, more than half of its casino revenue and roughly 10,000 jobs. Last year, the resort’s deficit topped $120 million, more than a third of its revenue. Forget the $35 million a year it owes in debt payments and the $40 million it owes in pension and health benefits – it can’t even afford to pay current salaries. If nothing’s done, the city will run out of money within just a few months.So despite Christie’s many failures during his tenure as New Jersey’s governor, give the man credit for stepping up big when it was needed most, bringing all the major players together to do the dirty but necessary work to rescue the state’s struggling mecca and avoid bankruptcy.But that’s where responsible Christie makes way for candidate Christie. Considering his small government pitch, it’s not surprising the former prosecutor turned serial obfuscator would keep many of the details of his takeover plan in the dark.For instance, Sweeney and others keep saying Atlantic City needs to rightsize its budget in line with other cities that have 40,000 residents. But Atlantic City is a year-round tourist destination, and dramatic cutbacks could make the city less safe at a time it’s trying to offer more than casinos.So what specific cuts are they targeting that could make a significant dent in the city’s budget deficit?Also, would Trenton consider selling off assets, like the city’s much-coveted water utility, to private operators? The money that could be gained from such a sale would be tempting, but we saw how well that worked out for the residents in Flint, Michigan.So far, Sweeney has signaled an interest in selling, suggesting that Atlantic County could buy the water utility. But Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson told the Inquirer he’s not that interested in bailing out a state “that has pissed money away for frivolity and a city run also incompetently.”There’s also the question of why Christie vetoed four bills designed to stabilize Atlantic City’s finances. These and many others remain unanswered because all Christie seems to want to talk about these days are Marco Rubio and spanking Hillary Clinton:
CHRISTIE on HILLARY: “I’ll beat her rear end on that stage and afterward she’ll be relieved that I didn’t serve her with a subpoena.”
— Matt Katz (@mattkatz00) February 3, 2016
So once the New Hampshire primary is over, and Christie can actually return to doing the job he was elected to perform, I wish him well attempting to clean-up the mess he faces in Atlantic City. I just hope he brings a mop.
________________________________________________Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and WHYY contributor. You can reach Rob at RobTornoe@gmail.com.