A cash crunch could force Atlantic City to shut down non-essential services in two weeks. That’s what the city’s preparing for while it’s pleading with the Christie administration for a loan. The governor has refused and instead wants the Legislature to pass a bill to take over Atlantic City. The gaming mecca that faces stiffer competition, a shrunken casino footprint and revenues that plummeted. Mayor Don Guardian said the city is cutting expenses but not getting enough state aid. The governor says AC is over spending and he compared it to Newark.
Chris Christie: Atlantic City costs over $6,600 a person to run the government. We’re standing in the city of Newark, the state’s largest city. It’s $2,800 a person to run the government in Newark. Never did I think that Newark would be seen as a paragon of fiscal conservatism. Yet if you compare Newark to AC, it’s nearly $4,000 less per person to operate the government in the city of Newark than it is in AC. In AC — a town of 39,000 people — the police chief makes $212,000 a year, his deputy chief makes $193,000 a year and the deputy fire chief makes $198,000 a year. I would remind you that’s more than I make and the county executive makes.
Guardian: What he’s not telling you is that the state of New Jersey with no takeover, with no threat, without trying to get rid of civil service requirements and taking away the right for the working man to have collective bargaining, without doing anything else, the state provides incredible substances to other cities and again I have a listing of every city in New Jersey and the billions of dollars that they spend. So, Newark is a lot bigger than us but between school aid and city aid they get $1 billion per year over the last 10 years.
Michael Hill: Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron has been following this story and joins us in the Agnes Varis NJTV Studio for more. Michael, one says wasteful, the other one says not so. Who’s right?
Aron: That’s hard to say Michael, but Mayor Guardian says he cut his budget from $262 million to under $200 million, that he’s given up 330 jobs out of 1,250 in the process, that firefighters start at a salary of $45,000 now where it was two years ago $58,000. As for the per person cost of government, we’re a resort town, we’re 24-hour town. His number, we have 300,000 coming in on weekends, I don’t know if that’s the right number but that’s the number he uses and he handed out some numbers right after the press conference on what other towns get from the state. In terms of municipal aid, Newark got $101 million last year, Camden $101 million, Jersey City $64 million, Trenton $49 million and on down to Atlantic City at $16 million. And the same patterns hold when you look at school aid. Newark, $715 million last year, many of the cities in the hundreds of millions of dollars and Atlantic City at $18 million. So, he’s saying give us aid, not a takeover.
Hill: Now the shutdown starts in two weeks from today, at least that’s the schedule, and it ends on May 2. What happens on May 2?
Aron: That’s when second quarter property taxes start to come into the government and the government can afford to pay salaries again but as Guardian and others warned yesterday in AC that just starts the cycle all over again and in another six to eight, maybe 10 weeks they’ll be out of cash again and they’ll have to institute furloughs again.
Hill: A nasty fight between the governor and the Assembly speaker, Vincent Prieto. Prieto won’t post the takeover bill, perhaps because he doesn’t want the Christie administration or the state to have the power to break up the collective bargaining agreements and so forth. Have you ever seen a fight like this between an Assembly speaker and the governor?
Aron: I’ve seen a couple. Go back 10 years and Gov. [Jon] Corzine and Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts of his own party were fighting so much over what to do with an additional 1 cent in the sales tax that they shut the government down for six days in July. You go back to the ’80s and Gov. Tom Kean and Speaker Alan Karcher were at each other’s throats in Kean’s reelection year of 1985, but having said that, this is the most serious breach between a governor and a speaker in a decade. Those two were getting along very well for a while. Sheila Oliver was the third man out when she was speaker, third person out. Vinny Prieto was on the inside and something has fallen apart in the past few months.
Hill: As this plays out, Michael, what does this mean for the casinos and the city’s economy?
Aron: Before I answer that question, I want to make one more point on the fallout between them. Gov. Christie has even posted on his website Speaker Prieto’s office address and urged people to contact him. That’s a highly unusual and provocative move. Now, to your question about what does it mean for the city, the city hopes that the public understands that it’s just a city government shutdown, that the casinos aren’t shut down. The town is open for business is what part of the message from the mayor was yesterday. They have a beerfest coming up one of these weekends, they have a state film festival, there’s an air show this summer. They’re trying to keep the city ginned up all summer long at the same time that city government is facing this crisis.
Hill: All right, we’ll be watching. Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron. Thank you, Michael.
Aron: Thanks, Michael.