Atlantic City to pay workers with IOUs as money crisis looms

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Atlantic City continues to move toward financial collapse while lawmakers remain in a stalemate over what to do about it. (WPVI)

Atlantic City hurtled on Thursday toward a financial crisis that means IOUs for police officers, firefighters and sanitation workers while city and state officials trade blame for the seaside gambling resort's increasingly dire predicament.

Mayor Don Guardian held a news conference to detail plans for a shutdown of nonessential city services from April 8 to May 2, due, he said, to the state's continuing inability to pass a financial rescue package that Gov. Chris Christie has vetoed twice already.

"On April 8, we will run out of money; that's a fact," Guardian said.

He said the situation needs to be resolved by an agreement with state officials on long-term help for Atlantic City, which has seen its largest taxpayer, the casino industry, crumble in recent years.

"How long can we last?" he asked. "Not long."

But Christie said the city's problems are largely of its own making through years of overspending. The governor said he will sign two bills seen as crucial to the city's future - a state takeover of Atlantic City's finances, and a bill to allow casinos to make payments in lieu of property taxes - only if they are not amended first. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto is refusing to approve the bills in his chamber without guarantees that public employee contracts will be honored after a state takeover - something to which Christie will not agree.

"If this is not passed and put on my desk in the exact form that it was passed on the Senate, then no action will be taken and Atlantic City will be out of money on April 8," Christie said. "They can all come to the speaker's office and ask him why. If they all want to suck up to the public sector unions for their own political gain, then that's their choice."

Christie had Prieto's office phone numbers posted in a notice on the governor's official website so callers could ask "why he's blocking bipartisan legislation."

Prieto held firm on his demand for public contract protection as part of any Atlantic City deal. He added New Jersey already has the power to rescue much of the Atlantic City's finances without hurting its employee unions.

"Collective bargaining is a right that is a democratic value," he said. "These are people's lives."

Guardian said the city is still determining exactly which services will be shut down next month.

"If you have lost a loved one and you want to bury them, you need the death certificate; I think that's an essential service," Guardian said. "If you're getting married, you need the license. That's an essential service."

The mayor said employees in many other departments have offered to volunteer to keep programs like recreation running. He said the city will pay workers later in May once the next batch of quarterly tax payments starts arriving.


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Associated Press writers Ben Finley in Trenton and Josh Cornfield in Newark contributed to this story.
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