Senate President Steve Sweeney, state Sen. Paul Sarlo and state Sen. Kevin O’Toole announced their plans Tuesday to put forth a bipartisan bill calling for a state takeover of Atlantic City’s finances.“Taxpayers from Bergen County to Cape May have sent hundreds of millions of dollars to Atlantic City in recent years, and this fiscal reform will ensure that their elected representatives can be watchful stewards of their past, present and future investments,” said O’Toole (R-Wayne). “This is the pathway to create an efficient, accountable and transparent Atlantic City government. It will expedite the city’s evolution into a new prime-time destination for people on the East Coast and beyond with diverse options for jobs, tourism and entertainment.”
Though details of the plan were not immediately available, as the bill has not yet been formally introduced, Sweeney (D-West Deptford) noted that the city’s budget is unsustainable and unacceptable given its current population size.
“If the Legislature doesn’t act on this in the immediate future, I will support a declaration of bankruptcy for Atlantic City,” said Sweeney. “We have to do what needs to be done to bring financial stability and responsibility to the city.”
The Press of Atlantic City, which obtained a draft copy of the bill, is reporting that the legislation would call on the state Division of Local Government Services and the Local Finance Board to assist in the city’s affairs.
“We want to give the taxpayers of New Jersey an active voice in how public funds are spent in Atlantic City,” Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) said. “The state continues to provide substantial resources to a city with a budget that is far out of proportion for its size and population. We have to bring responsible financial management and practices to Atlantic City.”
News of the proposed takeover comes just a day after Trenton dealt another potential blow to the city Monday, when Gov. Chris Christie announced that he had helped broker a deal between Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus) that will possibly pave the way for casino gaming in northern New Jersey to become a reality.
In a fiery statement released late Monday, state Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Northfield) blasted the proposal.
“A state takeover of Atlantic City would be a disaster,” said Whelan, who served as mayor of the city from 1990 to 2001. “Given its abysmal, 30-year track record in taking over school districts, I seriously doubt the state of New Jersey will be the white knight to save Atlantic City. More importantly, a state takeover threatens to disenfranchise the residents of Atlantic City, removing their democratically elected government. Anyone who supports a state takeover is no friend of Atlantic City, and I urge all of my colleagues to vehemently fight this ill-conceived plan.”
Atlantic City is already under the watch of an emergency management team appointed by Christie last year.
Christie did not mention the takeover proposal or any plan regarding the city during Tuesday’s State of the State address.