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Sweeney, Prieto to seek deal on A.C. bill Friday

Thursday, May 5, 2016   (0 Comments)
Share | 05/05/16

Legislative leaders have agreed to meet Friday and try to untangle their thorny, long-running dispute over the extent of a state takeover of Atlantic City's finances. The plan to talk was announced prior to a vote Thursday in the Assembly on a bill sponsored by Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Secaucus, that would buy the city more time to mend a budget deficit that city officials estimate at nearly $250 million. But Senate President Stephen Sweeney later said there are no plans to negotiate. “I don’t know what Speaker Prieto is talking about,” Sweeney said in a statement. “There is no meeting planned for tomorrow to discuss any legislation related to Atlantic City.” Prieto's bill would, like Sweeney's bill, direct the city's ailing casino industry to make annual payments in lieu of taxes of $120 million for each of the next 10 years. 

The casinos also would provide another $30 million to the city for two years, then a declining amount after that. But Prieto's bill, rather than call for an immediate state takeover that could include voiding collective bargaining agreements with city employees, would establish an Atlantic City Planning Committee consisting of the mayor, City Council president, and three state officials. The committee would establish annual spending reduction "benchmarks," with an annual report submitted to a special master appointed by the state's Supreme Court Chief Justice. If the master finds at any time in the next five years that the benchmarks have not been met, state officials would obtain the powers that Sweeney's bill would grant them immediately.

Sweeney and Governor Christie insist, however, that the city's financial situation is so dire that there is no time to wait for benchmarks to be met - particularly given that both men say that Atlantic City leaders have not demonstrated a willingness to make drastic cuts they say are needed. "I can't vote for this bill because it does nothing to help Atlantic City," said Assemblyman Louis Greenwald, D-Camden, the Democratic leader in the Assembly. Republican leader Assemblyman John Bramnick said that he welcomed the willingness of Sweeney and Prieto to work out a deal that could then be sent to Christie. "Governing only gets done when there's a crisis, and that's unfortunate," Bramnick said. Co-sponsors of Prieto’s bill include  North Jersey Democrats Gordon Johnson and Joseph Lagana and Atlantic County Republican Chris Brown.

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