Lawmakers React to Fight Over Atlantic City Takeover Bill

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

Democratic state senators agree with Gov. Chris Christie that Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto should post the Atlantic City takeover bill for a vote as soon as possible.

Sen. Paul Sarlo was a sponsor of the bill that passed in the Senate last month, 27 to 9 with four abstentions.

“If Atlantic City was to declare bankruptcy, the credit rating agencies will come down on every city in the state of New Jersey. It will come down on little towns such as mine and others who have such strong bond ratings, triple A credit ratings. It will come down on every municipality in the state of New Jersey,” Sarlo said.

Sen. Jeff Van Drew, whose largely Cape May County district is near Atlantic City, voted against the takeover but now thinks it’s more important to get some kind of rescue package in place than to worry about the niceties.

“What’s important to me is frankly that our towns are OK, that South Jersey will be OK and Atlantic City will ultimately be OK. And I preferred a gentler, easier, what I thought, route and I would still prefer that. But if that’s not going to happen, and it looks like it’s not, then we’ve got to post that bill, get the thing moving and really save Atlantic City,” he said.

Assembly Speaker Prieto refuses to post the AC takeover bill unless there are some changes, for example to preserve collective bargaining.

He is locked into a stalemate with Gov. Christie, who says he won’t sign the rescue package if even a single word is changed.

Christie accuses Prieto of trying to curry favor with public sector unions on behalf of the gubernatorial ambitions of his fellow Hudson County Democrat, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.

Sen. Brian Stack, a Christie ally among the Democrats, says he has seen no evidence that Prieto and Fulop are working together to block the takeover.

To what extent is gubernatorial politics holding this up? “I think there’s a degree of that definitely. I think there’s a lot of sides being taken here. There’s a lot of lines being drawn in the sand, but it can’t be at the expense of the people in Atlantic City and the people throughout the state of New Jersey. It’s now time that everybody puts their ambitions aside if that’s happening now and does what’s best for Atlantic City. I don’t think it’s a good situation. We don’t want to see them go bankrupt. That’s horrible,” Stack said.

Senate President Steve Sweeney is on Christie’s side. Sweeney and Fulop are both jockeying to be the next governor.

Prieto says Christie has the authority to bail out Atlantic City. Christie today repeated he needs full authority.

“And my position is not going to change on that. And it’s because of the question you asked me yesterday. You asked me about well state takeovers, people are suspicious of its ability to be successful, why shouldn’t they be suspicious of this one? And I said I’ve never done one before. The fact is I’m not going to go in to Atlantic City with one hand tied behind my back,” he said.

Christie acknowledged he hasn’t spoken to AC Mayor Don Guardian since the day he thought they had a deal.

“Nothing’s changed. Steve and I thought we had a deal with an honorable guy. So why haven’t I communicated with him since then? Because I can’t trust him,” Christie said.

Christie is not budging. Neither is Prieto. The next marker in this fight could come Thursday when the full Assembly comes in for a voting session.