- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 12, 2016

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - A proposed bill in the state Legislature would give the state vast power over Atlantic City, including the right to make most major decisions and to sell off assets and land.

Senate President Steve Sweeney said his bill would let the state take over Atlantic City’s finances and said the city should declare bankruptcy if the Legislature doesn’t quickly approve it.

Sweeney, a Democrat, said the struggling gambling resort needs to get its fiscal house in order and stop seeking bailouts from the state.

“This is a very clear statement to Atlantic City,” Sweeney said. “Get your act together.”

His comments came shortly after the Legislature approved a revised Atlantic City aid bill that would have its eight casinos pay more in lieu of taxes. The Legislature was also about to move forward with a bill to authorize a referendum on expanding casinos to northern New Jersey.

Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian said that Tuesday was “Atlantic City’s Pearl Harbor,” adding the state had attacked his city by surprise.

“It sounds like an occupying force coming down,” said Guardian, a Republican.

Sweeney acknowledged the already high level of state control over Atlantic City.

“What this does is puts it on steroids,” he said.

According to a draft of the bill, which had not been formally introduced as of Tuesday night, the state Local Finance Board would be given control of “any of the functions, powers, privileges, immunities, and duties of the governing body.”

The bill would give the board control over governmental and administrative operations; the right to dissolve any municipal board or commission; and the right to sell municipally owned assets including water, sewer, wastewater and storm water facilities as well as city-owned real estate.

Sweeney wants Atlantic City to sell its water company and the former Bader Field airport site.

A bankruptcy filing would have to come from the city. Sweeney said the state could not impose a bankruptcy upon it, though he added the city is in danger of running out of cash on April 1 if the payment-in-lieu of taxes bill isn’t enacted.

That bill, passed Tuesday and sent to Republican Gov. Chris Christie, would require the casinos to make $50 million in additional payments over seven years and would share 13.5 percent of the money collected from the casinos with Atlantic County’s government and the city’s schools to help prevent tax increases for those entities.

It also includes revenue streams other than gambling when calculating how much the casinos owe, which effectively sets a collective minimum of $120 million per year for the eight casinos.


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

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