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Upping Atlantic City Hotel Tax Could Preserve Jobs for Cops, Firefighters

Friday, February 3, 2017   (0 Comments)
Share | 02/03/17

With the local government in Atlantic City facing a $100 million budget hole and a state takeover of the resort’s finances now in full swing, cutbacks to local police and firefighting services appear inevitable. But a bill moving through the state Legislature is seeking to ease any hit on public safety by establishing a $2 hotel-room tax in Atlantic City, and protecting the reputation of the struggling resort is emerging as a key issue in the debate.

The hotel-tax measure is sponsored by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, a Democrat who led efforts last year to prevent the state takeover that the administration of Republican Gov. Chris Christie eventually launched in late 2016, after it rejected a plan put forward by city leaders to address its deep financial problems. The $2 tax envisioned by Prieto (D-Hudson) would be instituted for two years, only in Atlantic City, and all proceeds would be dedicated to paying for police and firefighting services. The nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services has estimated that the proposed tax would generate up to $8.6 million in new annual revenue, funds that Prieto says could help offset the $14 million in givebacks that union officials have said the Christie administration has been seeking as part of the takeover.

The proposed tax has drawn the support of union officials from the city’s public-safety services who argue that given the resort’s reliance on tourism and major business conventions, it can ill afford to take the public-relations hit that massive layoffs would generate. Several lawmakers also spoke of the need to maintain robust public-safety services while voting in favor of the proposed tax as it was moved out of committee earlier this week. But representatives of the resort’s business community warned against establishing the new tax, saying hotel rooms in Atlantic City are already hit with some of the highest taxes and fees in the region, and another increase could push tourists and convention organizers away completely.

Eric Richard, legislative affairs coordinator for the AFL-CIO, suggested the $2 per-room tax would be a small price to pay to prevent the negative attention that Atlantic City would receive from making widespread public-safety layoffs.

“The last thing we want for a struggling city like Atlantic City — everyone here is well familiar with how bad the economic (picture) is, how dire the situation is — is to have a perception that this city is now not safe due to public-safety layoffs within the fire department and the police department,” Richard said

“We need to ensure that Atlantic City has a reputation that it is safe, particularly for our tourists and for its residents,” he said. “If there is a perception that it’s not safe, with all due respect, folks are not going to book those conventions in Atlantic City.”

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