Atlantic City: Nothing Will Be Different During 3-Week Shutdown

Mayor Don Guardian and Gov. Chris Christie escalated their war of words yesterday over a proposed state takeover of the financially-troubled seaside resort.

Don Guardian - Atlantic City mayor; Chris Christie - New Jersey governor

Atlantic City mayor Don Guardian (left) and New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

Come April 8th, Atlantic City is out of cash.

That doesn’t mean the boardwalk is going to crumble like it’s an episode of Life After People. But it does mean the city — which is generally bumpin’ on weekends, no matter the time of year — won’t pay its employees for three weeks.

Mayor Don Guardian said yesterday about 950 city employees have volunteered to work without pay. That’s almost the entire city workforce; Guardian said the city “is not going to look any different” during the government shutdown.

Employees aren’t guaranteed to be paid eventually for those three free weeks of work, though it’s certainly a possibility. But if you’re going to the Atlantic City Beer and Music Festival (Dashboard Confessional and Reel Big Fish are playing!) or the Garden State Film Festival (there’s a movie called Catslaughter screening!), your experience in Atlantic City will not be any different.

But how did Atlantic City get to this point? The Inquirer described yesterday’s drama as “a 10-hour war of words,” as Guardian, Gov. Chris Christie and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto each gave differing takes on the conflict.

Guardian, Atlantic City’s Republican mayor, placed the blame squarely on Christie: “We will run out of money April 8 because the governor has withheld $33.5 million. There’s no one else to blame here. The money is coming from the casinos. Yet the governor has decided he’s not going to help us.”

The primary reason for the city’s budget woes is the expansion of casinos in neighboring states and the end of Atlantic City as the sole gambling market on the East Coast. That helped lead to the closure of four casinos in 2014; with the city’s remaining casinos now worth much less, owners successfully appealed their property tax bills. Atlantic City is late on a $62.5 million refund payment to Borgata.

Atlantic City had a plan to move forward in 2016, redirecting casino tax money from marketing to the city and implementing a PILOT program for casinos instead of having the casinos pay property taxes. But Christie vetoed a bill that would implement that plan.

Christie, instead, wants the state to take over the city government so it can break collective bargaining agreements with the city’s unions. Christie says the state won’t step in unless it’s given the authority to take over more of state government — it already appointed an emergency manager last year — and will let the city go bankrupt otherwise.

Preito, a Democrat from Hudson County, says a N.J. law says the state must step in if a municipality is in danger of not being able to pay its bills. “Gov. Christie needs to do his job,” he said in a release. “He makes Nero look like a man of action.” Christie has responded by putting Preito’s phone numbers on the official governor’s website and asking constituents to call him and ask “Why He’s Blocking Bipartisan Legislation And Putting Public Sector Unions Before The People Of Atlantic City & Atlantic County.”

Christie also blasted the $212,000-a-year salary of the city’s police chief yesterday. Atlantic City lifeguards can even get pensions at 45. But Guardian says many similar executives around the state make analogous amounts, including the chief of the state-mandated Camden County force (he makes $230,000).

Basically: It’s a mess. And it doesn’t look like any sides will budge at the moment. The Atlantic City saga continues.

Follow @dhm on Twitter.