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Prieto Pulls His Stalled Atlantic City Bill, Edging Resort Closer to Crisis

Friday, May 6, 2016   (0 Comments)
Share | 05/06/16

A much-hyped state Assembly bill intended to give the city more time to get its finances in order was pulled back at the last minute because of a lack of support among lawmakers. With no immediate consensus on a Plan B, pressure is mounting on Democrats who control the Legislature to overcome what right now are bitter disagreements over the best and fairest way for the state to intervene as the seaside resort nears a cash crisis. Adding to the drama is the fact that the standoff is viewed by many as a proxy battle for the upcoming gubernatorial race, with Senate President Stephen Sweeney expected to run to replace Gov. Chris Christie next year in a primary contest that will likely include Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, a fellow Democrat. 

But it was Prieto who scored the biggest loss of the day when it became clear around 3:30 p.m. that he would not be able to get the 41 votes needed to move his own Atlantic City intervention bill out of the lower chamber, which is controlled by Democrats. Several members that he was counting on to vote for the measure were missing from the State House, forcing Prieto to admit that he couldn’t get his bill passed. He’s now rescheduled the voting session for Wednesday. “Obviously, when I put up the bill I had 41 votes to get it (passed), but there were some members who could not make it,” Prieto conceded during his news conference. Prieto’s bill was proposed as an alternative to one backed by Christie and Sweeney (D-Gloucester) that calls for an immediate state takeover of the city and its finances. That bill would also give Christie’s administration the authority to renegotiate debt and rip up union deals.

Prieto’s measure would instead have created benchmarks for the city to meet over a period of up to two years before the full state takeover could go into effect. That built-in delay was something the Assembly leader said would respect the civil rights of city residents and the collective-bargaining rights of its public workers. The bill was backed by several labor unions and local officials in Atlantic City as well as it went through committee hearings last month. Prieto is close to Fulop, also an expected gubernatorial candidate. And Fulop has already publicly weighed in on the issue, accusing Sweeney of doing the bidding of Christie and Democratic power broker George Norcross, who also supports a takeover.

Prieto said Sweeney’s original bill had zero support from his own Democratic caucus, and that he would now direct his focus to hammering out a compromise with the Senate leader. “I’m still looking to pass a bill that is the bill that can get to the governor’s desk,” Prieto said. But after realizing Prieto’s bill would not be able to clear the Assembly, Sweeney pounced, calling his own news conference to say that the Assembly leader should instead be posting his legislation for a vote. And Sweeney said since he’s already offered to amend his bill to delay the more aggressive components of a state takeover until the end of the year, Prieto should take that deal immediately so it could be put before the governor. “Leadership means leading,” Sweeney said. “The speaker proved today he could not pass his own bill.”

Christie, meanwhile, also criticized Prieto during yet another news conference held yesterday, accusing the Assembly leader of putting political goals ahead of doing what’s best for the city and its residents. Christie said he suspects the city government now has only enough money to last about 10 days. The last municipal bankruptcy in New Jersey occurred in 1938. “Let’s let them get to work,” Christie said of lawmakers. “If they come up with something, great; if they do not then you know bankruptcy will be the only option.” “While I would regret having to go down that road, it is a road that I will have no choice but to go down,” he went on to say.


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