By David Cruz
In this economic game of chicken over Atlantic City’s financial future, Gov. Chris Christie just upped the ante, threatening today to let the whole thing crash and burn unless he gets a takeover bill he likes.
“If the Atlantic City takeover bill and the PILOT bill are not passed and sent to my desk in their current form, I will oppose North Jersey gaming and I will use every bit of influence I have to make sure that the referendum is defeated,” he said.
Using charts and graphs to illustrate his argument, Christie said Mayor Don Guardian and the city council have run the city into the ground. He checked off a list of the city’s economic sins, tolerated and encouraged, he says, by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.
“One hundred nineteen city employees have salaries over $100,000. Ninety-three percent of those are either in the police department or the fire department, of salaries over $100,000. In 2015 alone, Atlantic City paid out $6.6 million in terminal leave to retiring public employees, unused sick and vacation days provided for in the collective bargaining agreements. Six point six million dollars paid out in 2015 for people not to work in Atlantic City. More than $770,000 is already owed for retiring city employees in 2016, so already $700,000 in the hole for that. The deputy fire chief and the deputy chief of police — just two people retiring this year — are owed $320,000 apiece. Just for those two. The speaker wants to protect all that, says that’s sacrosanct,” he said. “They owe $150 million as we speak today to Borgata, they owe $40 million to MGM. They owe $38.8 million in deferred pension and health benefit payments, which the city hasn’t paid at all since 2014.”
The bottom line, says Christie, is that Prieto and the man he called Prieto’s boss — Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop — are playing gubernatorial politics at the expense of the people of Atlantic City and North Jersey.
“Because the mayor does not want to see anything that Sen. Sweeney, who will be one of his rivals for the Democratic nomination for governor, succeed. He also wants to sidle up closer to the public sector unions in the hope that he can get their endorsement rather than Sen. Sweeney. Look, David, I’ve been in this game for a long time. I know the way inside politics inside this building works and running for governor, I’ve done it a couple of times successfully. I know how people do this. And it’s clear that the mayor and the speaker are working in concert to try and hurt the Senate president and advantage themselves. That’s fine, as long as you’re not hurting other innocent people in the process, but here it’s a much different story. He’s hurting the people of Atlantic City and the people of that region,” he said.
Minutes after the Christie presser, Fulop issued a statement chiding Christie for his “temper tantrum” and Prieto issued a statement putting the blame for Atlantic City’s woes on Christie.
The governor, who’s been mostly on a feel-good tour of ribbon cuttings and photo ops, appears ready to re-engage on Atlantic City and apparently prepared to let the political chips fall where they may.