Gov. Chris Christie held a news conference Monday to announce that the state has filed a lawsuit against Atlantic City in an effort to mandate that the financially depleted city uses its remaining funds to make a series of upcoming scheduled payments to its school district.According to Christie, Atlantic City’s government has just about $10 million left on-hand and owes the school district roughly $34 million through July. The lawsuit seeks to not only make sure that the city follows through on an $8.4 million school payment later this month, but also hopes to block the municipality from making a $3.2 million payroll payment scheduled for Friday.
The move was just the latest in an ongoing stalemate between Christie and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus) over a bill that would pave the way for a state takeover of Atlantic City’s finances.
Though Christie supports the measure, which was already passed by the Senate last month and strongly supported by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), Prieto, alongside Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian, has contended that it goes too far and threatens existing collective bargaining contracts.
Christie and Prieto also reportedly met on Monday, but no agreement could be reached.
“What the Speaker wants to do is, he has made a very clear position here, that there is nothing more important than rich public sector union contracts,” Christie said. “Not Atlantic City’s school children, not the rightful debts that are owed to bond holders who have helped finance this large asset on the part of the Atlantic City government, not the casinos who have been overtaxed over the years and a court has made a judgement that they’re owed over $200 million to the city took by force from them with the right to tax illegally. None of that stuff matters more than a lifeguard getting a pension. Nothing else matters more than a deputy police chief getting a $320,000 pay out, on their way out the door, by the way after they’ve been making $198,000 a year.”
The lawsuit was filed in Atlantic County in the name of state Department of Education Commissioner David Hespe.
Christie has repeatedly called on Prieto to at least post the bill for a vote before the next scheduled Assembly voting session on Thursday. That was echoed by an open letter sent to Prieto over the weekend by 13 South Jersey Democratic Assembly members.
“The Speaker has put himself in line with the public sector unions,” Christie added. “This administration is putting itself in line with the taxpayers of Atlantic City and the taxpayers of the state of New Jersey who will not bail this out any longer and we are just not going to do it.”
Prieto fired back on Monday, criticizing Christie and calling on Sweeney to mediate a compromise.
“Gov. Christie, rather than blaming others, should be using his existing authority to help Atlantic City avoid fiscal disaster, but in the meantime Senate President Sweeney needs to negotiate a compromise that protects core Democratic values such as collective bargaining and fair labor practices,” Prieto said.