NJ Assembly OKs financial package for Atlantic City

 New Jersey State Sen. James Whelan, left, Atlantic City  Mayor Don Guardian, center, and state Senate President Steve Sweeney take part in a news conference last year in Atlantic City. The state Assembly has approved a package of bills to help the struggling city. (AP file photo)

New Jersey State Sen. James Whelan, left, Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian, center, and state Senate President Steve Sweeney take part in a news conference last year in Atlantic City. The state Assembly has approved a package of bills to help the struggling city. (AP file photo)

The New Jersey Assembly has passed a package of bills to help stabilize Atlantic City’s finances.

The bills would require casinos to pay Atlantic City $150 million for the next two years instead of their traditional property taxes. About $30 million from the casino investment alternative tax would be used to pay down the city’s debt.

Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo said his legislation is critical for Atlantic City.

“Without it, I think the city goes bankrupt. I think we’re that close,” said Mazzeo, D-Atlantic. “You’re talking about a city with about $400 million in debt.”

But Assemblyman Chris A. Brown expressed some concerns about the bills.

“This is a small piece of a much bigger puzzle, and if North Jersey casinos become a reality, this pilot plan is meaningless,” said Brown, R-Atlantic.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the measures June 25, and Senate President Steve Sweeney said he hopes Gov. Chris Christie goes along with them.

“I think the governor is trying, the administration is trying, to starve Atlantic City into bankruptcy. So that’s the other play here, which he can do,” Sweeney said. “He could not sign the bills, and they would just not have money to run their government.”

Some lawmakers are pushing for casinos in other parts of New Jersey. By law, they are allowed only in Atlantic City.

A proposal by some Assembly Democrats to limit that expansion to three North Jersey counties creates a problem, said Sweeney, D-Gloucester.

“Something like this is never going to be easy to get done to start with, and once you identify and say this is where I’m putting it and that’s it, you basically don’t motivate many other people to do anything to help it,he said. “I think this is too important to not get it right.”

Sweeney is calling for a more thorough discussion.

“We don’t even have a bill that we agree on. We have not had a public conversation. We haven’t figured out what the tax rates would be, how it would work,” he said. “This is just something that you just can’t throw out there, and we’re going to run with it. What’s happened so far has done nothing but harm the conversation in my opinion.”

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