Potential Atlantic City Compromise

Legislation to help struggling Atlantic City is being put on hold in the New Jersey Assembly as leaders discuss a possible compromise.

Photo: AP Photo / Mel Evans, File
Casino revenue in Atlantic City fell below $3 billion last year for the first time in 22 years as increased competition in the northeastern U.S. continued to shrink the market. Figures released Jan. 14 showed the city's casinos had revenue of $2.86 billion.

Democratic Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said Monday that he and Senate President Steve Sweeney talked over the weekend about a possible path forward to bail out the resort town.

“It wasn’t my idea to create a bill (and) ram it down anyone’s throat,” Prieto said. “It’s not about me putting something up. It’s about getting something accomplished.”

A spokesman for Sweeney confirmed the two legislators talked, but declined to elaborate. Prieto also didn’t give details on the possible compromise.

Last week, Republican Gov. Chris Christie said he prefers the Senate-passed bill that would allow the state to take over the city’s finances immediately, but would consider another measure if the Democratic leaders presented it to him.

Prieto said previously that he would likely post his bill this week. The measure would create a five-person panel and a special master to set benchmarks the city must reach. Only after failing to meet them for two years could the state take over Atlantic City.

Prieto has objected to the Senate bill because it centers on what he says is the decimation of unions’ bargaining rights. But the governor and Sweeney say the city has had ample time to get its finances in order and still faces more than $500 million in debt and a nearly $100 million budget gap. Christie also argues that some public union contracts offered health benefits that were too generous and costly.

Republican Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian and Democratic Council President Marty Small have come out in favor of Prieto’s plan. They oppose giving up the city’s control to the state.

Atlantic City’s finances cratered after other states authorized gambling and the city lost four of its 12 casinos in 2014. The city is on the verge of running out of money, and narrowly averted a partial government shutdown by changing its payroll schedule to buy it a few weeks’ time.