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5-bill rescue package for Atlantic City heads to Christie's desk

Friday, June 26, 2015   (0 Comments)
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NJ.com 06/26/15

Five bills intended to help Atlantic City turnaround its ailing fiscal health cleared another hurdle on Thursday when the state Senate approved the package, which now heads to Gov. Chris Christie's desk. But the Republican governor, who installed an emergency management team in Atlantic City earlier this year following the closing of four of the resort's 12 casinos, has not yet said whether he would sign the legislation.  The centerpiece of the package attempts to stabilize the city's tax base by allowing the eight remaining casinos to make payments in lieu of property taxes for 15 years. The casinos would pay $150 million in total for the next two years and then $120 million a year after that if gaming revenues remain steady. 

The city's tax base has plummeted from $20.5 billion in 2010 to $7.3 billion in 2015 and $4 billion of that decline has happened in the last year.  "The revenue lost to this crisis has been sudden and substantial," said state Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic), a sponsor of the legislation with Senate President Stephen Sweeney.  "This plan will bring more certainty to the city and the casino industry and it will help protect local taxpayers from bearing the burden." Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said the package "will help stop the hemorrhaging and bring stability to Atlantic City's finances." The four other bills include proposals that would provide additional state aid for Atlantic City's schools, redirect casino taxes currently used by a state agency for redevelopment projects to pay off the city's debts, disband the Atlantic City Alliance in order to use its funding to help the city and require casinos to provide "suitable" health care and retirement benefits for full-time workers covered by collective bargaining agreements.

The bills, which cleared the Assembly two weeks ago, were initially set for a vote in December but that was delayed amid a dispute between billionaire investor Carl Icahn and union workers at the Trump Taj Mahal casino.  State Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-Atlantic), who sponsored the legislation in the lower house, said "these bills must become law, and they must become law soon." "The work of turning Atlantic City into the multi-faceted tourist destination it must become is ongoing," he said in a statement. "In the meantime, we must stop the bleeding." Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian, a Republican who has expressed support for the legislation, said in a statement: "This new legislation, along with $40 million in municipal budget cuts and $20 million in cuts from the Board of Education, will serve to stabilize Atlantic City's economy and encourage new development. Working in cooperation with state and federal governments enables the city to move forward and achieve our goal of transforming Atlantic City into a world-class destination."


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