New plan would give Atlantic City 130 days to avoid takeover

Wednesday, April 13, 2016
FILE - This July 11, 2014 photo shows many of the Atlantic City N.J. Boardwalk casinos.

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Atlantic City would have to formulate a plan to fix its finances within 130 days or the state would take them over under a new proposal.

The measure proposed Wednesday by Democratic State Senate President Steve Sweeney and others comes with the promise of a state loan, provided the city can devise a long-term plan to hold down spending and increase revenue. But it also would lower the boom on Atlantic City much quicker than a rival proposal in the state Assembly that would give the city as long as two years to get its act together before losing control to the state.

And neither measure appears likely to satisfy Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who has repeatedly said he will only sign a two-bill package that has already been approved in the Senate.

The city is on the verge of running out of money, and narrowly averted a partial government shutdown by rejiggering its payroll schedule to buy it a few weeks' time.

"For years the Atlantic City government has made bold assertions regarding its ability to solve the problem," Sweeney said. "Despite those assertions, no solutions have ever been implemented in a material way. Our proposal gives the city one last chance."

The bill would give Atlantic City 130 days to deliver a reform plan to achieve and implement "financial stability" by reducing annual spending to $3,500 per resident starting on the first day of the month following approval of the plan, about half of what it currently spends, the lawmakers said.

Atlantic City officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday, and Christie's office declined comment.

The changes would come as amendments to one of two state takeover bills currently stuck in the state Legislature.

Sweeney and Christie have been pushing a bill giving New Jersey vast power over Atlantic City's finances and major decision-making power.

But Democratic Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto has his own bill that would give Atlantic City up to two years to improve. He said the new proposal still does not address his opposition to letting the state break union contracts, and does not protect the rights of Atlantic City's residents.

"Those core concerns must be addressed for any proposal to be taken seriously," he said.

Atlantic City's fiscal crisis is due in part to the shrinking of its casino industry, which last fallen from a $5.2 billion industry in 2006 to $2.56 billion last year. In 2014, four of its 12 casinos shut down.

But state officials say decades of mismanagement and overspending are also to blame for the city's predicament.