Bankruptcy A Possibility for Atlantic City After Christie Veto

Mayor Don Guardian said Christie was essentially telling Atlantic City to "drop dead" after he vetoed an aid bill the governor himself had asked for.

Atlantic City beach and boardwalk at twilight

Photo | Dan McQuade

Atlantic City could be out of cash by April.

That’s according to Mayor Don Guardian, who said estimates have the city running out of money in just a few months if state aid doesn’t come. “Bankruptcy is now back on the table,” Guardian said in a release. “If the state is not able to come up with the funding we need within the next few weeks, we will have no choice but to declare bankruptcy.”

Until yesterday, Atlantic City thought it was getting that funding: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie didn’t sign a bill that would plug $33.5 million in a state budget gap. It is essentially a veto.

It gets worse: In November, Chris Christie vetoed a similar bill, telling lawmakers he wanted the state to have more control over the funds going to Atlantic City. Lawmakers acquiesced, passing a new bill in line with what Christie requested. He let it sit until the bill died yesterday at noon.

Guardian, a Republican like Christie, released a statement blasting the decision.

“Governor Chris Christie and State Senate President Steve Sweeney initially reached out to Atlantic City last year and told us of their plans to draft a PILOT bill that would greatly aid our financial recovery,” Guardian said in the statement. “It wasn’t a perfect bill, but it was a bill that everyone could agree on. The bill was discussed, debated, and deliberated about endlessly. Then there was radio silence. We needed a decision and anticipated an answer on this crucial bill many, many months ago. All of us worked hard on the passage of this bill for over 18 months. So much time was wasted. And today, we finally have received that answer from the Governor.

“I must say, we are tremendously frustrated by the veto of this crucial bill because of all the hard work and effort that went into crafting this bill, for all the consensus building in the New Jersey Legislature that has gone for naught, and for all the cooperation locally that is now cancelled. It is certainly disappointing.”

Guardian told the Inquirer Christie was essentially telling Atlantic City to “drop dead,” adding that it was “very sad for someone running for office to double cross us.”

Christie’s office told reporters it had no comment and referred them to Christie’s presidential campaign. With the caucuses less than two weeks away, Christie has been in Iowa this week.

The veto increases the chances of a state takeover of Atlantic City, which State Sen. President Stephen Sweeney called for earlier this week. It would be the fourth such state intervention of the beleaguered shore town since 2010, per the Inquirer. Lawmakers and residents of Atlantic City rallied against such a takeover earlier this week.

“The fact is these bills would be good for Atlantic City so these vetoes are disappointing, but there is no time for politics — we must act and we must act fast,” Sweeney said in a release. “These vetoes reinforce the pressing need for Atlantic City to get its finances in order and to get it done as soon as possible. The best way to get that done is to have the state assume management of the city’s finances. Atlantic City’s financial crisis is real, it is severe and it is immediate. … We cannot afford to let Atlantic City go bankrupt. The best way out is for the State of New Jersey to take control of Atlantic City’s finances and the best way to do it is to act quickly. The sooner the state steps in, the sooner it can get the job done and get out.”

Guardian vowed to do whatever he could to prevent the state takeover. “The City of Atlantic City is now fighting four major battles simultaneously,” Guardian said in his release. “We are fighting a State takeover, a foolish North Jersey casino gaming agenda, an inequality of state funding, and an unprecedented drop in casino ratables because of the over-saturation of casino gaming market in the Northeast.

“Let me repeat that statement: we will not tolerate the stripping of our God-given civil rights and right to self-governance. Atlantic City has worked too hard and has come too far to let that happen. This above all, will be our priority.” Guardian also wrote a scathing opinion piece in The Press of Atlantic City today.

Also yesterday, Christie didn’t sign a bill that would raise New Jersey’s smoking age to 21, which means it remains at 19.

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