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Christie vetoes bills to aid Atlantic City, proposes retaining $30M until fiscal plan passed


TRENTON, New Jersey — Gov. Chris Christie on Monday vetoed most of a package of bills aimed at helping Atlantic City and its struggling casino industry and proposed that the state hold $30 million a year in casino tax payments hostage until after the city passes a fiscal recovery plan.

The key bill would have let the eight casinos make payments in lieu of taxes for 15 years, allowing them to know exactly how much they owe instead of facing huge potential increases each year. Instead, Christie would have $30 million of that money go to the state in each of tax years 2015 and 2016. The state would hold onto it until after Atlantic City passes a fiscal recovery plan the state deems acceptable.

"I am concerned that the bills, in their present form, fail to recognize the true path to economic revitalization and fiscal stability in the city," said Christie, a Republican presidential candidate. "While these bills represent the bipartisan efforts of many to provide important, near-term support to the city's immediate challenges, I do not believe they meet the goal of setting a course toward renewed, long-term prosperity and economic growth. To achieve these goals, we must continue our work and go further to ensure that the next step leads to that economically vibrant future for Atlantic City."

Later in the day, he issued a joint statement with Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat, promising "to immediately sit down together, with consultation of interested parties, to construct a final and fast resolution path for Atlantic City."

Other measures in the five-bill package would have mandated employee benefits for casino workers, diverted alternate investment taxes the casinos now pay and directed that money toward helping reduce Atlantic City's debt, and eliminated the Atlantic City Alliance and use its $30 million annual marketing budget for other ways to help the city.

The only bill he signed was one that approves additional school aid for the city.

The Casino Association of New Jersey said the bills were "vital" to Atlantic City's future.

"Every day that passes jeopardizes the financial stability this legislation would achieve, and also threatens not only our employees but also non-casino Atlantic City businesses as well as residents and taxpayers across the county," the association said in a statement.

The package grew out of a devastating 2014 in Atlantic City in which four of its 12 casinos went out of business. Christie convened a series of summits on the city's future, and some of the measures included in the package arose in part from those talks.

The bill that would have allowed casinos to make payments in lieu of taxes was seen as a way to help stabilize the casinos' finances and prohibit them from filing tax appeals each year challenging their assessments. Such moves were almost always won by the casinos as the city's gambling market declined and they were able to prove to a tax court that their property was worth less than just a few years earlier. Those appeals have blown huge holes in the city's budget in recent years.

The school aid bill was designed to help replace state education aid that is based on the value of property in the city.

Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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