- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) - A high-ranking New Jersey lawmaker who has not signed on to a proposed state takeover of Atlantic City’s finances said Wednesday that such a move should not be allowed to break contracts for police, firefighters and other municipal workers.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said takeover bills pending in the Legislature need to be changed to ensure the state can’t unilaterally cancel public employee contracts - something the bills would currently permit.

The bills would strip Atlantic City of most of its decision-making power, giving the state the right to break contracts, dissolve agencies, and sell off city assets to help get the city’s troubled finances under control.

“Everyone knows Atlantic City needs help, but we cannot do so while trampling collective bargaining rights,” said Prieto, a Hudson County Democrat. “Collective bargaining rights should be sacrosanct, notably for police and firefighters who put their lives at risk daily. We can accomplish our goals for Atlantic City while respecting the rights of police, firefighters and workers.”

One of the two takeover bills was introduced by Senate president Steve Sweeney and backed by Gov. Chris Christie. A similar but not identical bill was introduced in the Assembly by Assemblyman Louis Greenwald, a Burlington County Democrat.

So far, no action has been taken on the plan in the Assembly.

Prieto said he would not stand in the way of any negotiated deal between the state and city. But he said he wants a provision in the bill affirming that the state cannot commit unfair labor practices in reigning in city spending.

Reeling from the continuing contraction of the casino industry, its largest employer and taxpayer, Atlantic City could run out of cash within weeks. In January, Christie vetoed an aid package that would have helped the city and its casinos, saying Atlantic City has not done enough over the years to stabilize its finances.

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Follow Wayne Parry at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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