New Jersey plans for Atlantic City takeover advance

Opponents and supporters of the Atlantic City takeover measure pack New Jersey's Senate Budget Committee hearing room. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

Opponents and supporters of the Atlantic City takeover measure pack New Jersey's Senate Budget Committee hearing room. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

After emotional testimony and debate, the New Jersey Senate Budget Committee voted to advance legislation for state control over Atlantic City’s finances.

Ahmid Abdullah, president of Atlantic City’s blue-collar workers union, said he’s upset the legislation would allow the state to eliminate collective bargaining agreements for city employees.

“We get up and we work for our benefits. We don’t work for pay,” he said. “Our average rate that we make as a city of Atlantic City employee, we make $22,000 a year. I’m still eligible for welfare.’

However, Bob McDevitt, the casino workers union president, supports a takeover. Atlantic City is in danger of running out of money in a few weeks, and he said it’s either bankruptcy or a state takeover.

“Bankruptcy makes no sense,” McDevitt said. “I guarantee you that the bankruptcy courts are no place for one to look for security for collective bargaining agreements.”

A takeover would mean surrendering even the most modest aspects of self-government and self-control, said Mayor Don Guardian.

“It’s total state control, and, if it can happen in Atlantic City, then it can happen in any other distressed city in the state of New Jersey,” he said.

Sen. Jen Beck, R-Monmouth, voted against the measure.

“I understand we need to give Atlantic City a hand up, and, that in doing that, the state of New Jersey should have a significant voice as we’re going to lend both expertise and financial support,” she said. “But I think that this bill is an overreach.”

Lawmakers needed to take action, said Sen. Kevin O’Toole, R-Essex.

“No one wants to do this. If we do nothing, bankruptcy looms in three or four or five weeks,” he said. “That’s staggering, and that is unacceptable.”

The measure faces an uncertain future in the Assembly. Speaker Vinnie Prieto has objected to eliminating collective bargaining rights.

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