By David Cruz
“We don’t really have the luxury of time right now in Atlantic City,” said Jim Whelan.
Count the former Atlantic City Mayor and current state Senator among the many lawmakers who are scratching their heads today after Governor Chris Christie laid waste to almost a year’s worth of legislative heavy lifting by taking his veto pen to a package of Atlantic City rescue bills.
“We need to fix things now,” he said. “We can’t look at studies and figure out and worry about, ‘Well, we’ll get to it next year.’ You know, people are out of work, not just in Atlantic City, but Atlantic County. We have the highest foreclosure rate in the country in Atlantic County, so our problems are immediate.”
But the governor suggested that it’s time to go back to the drawing board. The man who convened a much ballyhooed summit and appointed a pair of managers to bring back the seaside resort said stakeholders didn’t keep up their end of the bargain.
“While these bills represent the bipartisan efforts of many to provide important, near-term support to the city’s immediate challenges,” Governor Christie wrote in his veto message, “I do not believe they meet the goal of setting a course toward renewed, long-term prosperity and economic growth.”
Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo was at a loss as to what was next for the city. “I think we’re all a little shell shocked from the legislative side that,” he said. “First of all, it took so long, and second of all, we’re a year later and we’re really not anywhere closer where we want to stabilize taxes in Atlantic City.”
The eleventh hour veto was said to have incensed legislative leaders, who were counting on getting the Atlantic City bills off the table, but the Senate President Steve Sweeney, who’s blasted the governor’s slow pace on Atlantic City, agreed to a joint statement with Christie, which read, in part.
“We remain jointly committed to Atlantic City’s long term viability as a great resort destination for entertainment, gaming and sports,” said the statement. “Additionally, we both now understand more clearly how challenging this revitalization will be as a result of all the hard work that ensued this past year.”
Four dead casinos in two years, thousands of unemployed, 50 percent tax increases, municipal layoffs, successful tax appeals by large casinos, all of it, overshadowing the small signs of life in the city. Now, a drumbeat from some local mayors about the need for a Detroit-like solution.
“I have no idea how bankruptcy is in anyone’s interest,” replied Whelan. “The impact of that on the city for the future, on the state for the future and on the region for the future. I think that’s something you want to avoid.”
Bruce Springsteen once sang “maybe everything that dies someday comes back,” but for Atlantic City, the reincarnation just got put on hold.