ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey — Gov. Chris Christie has once again rejected a financial assistance package for Atlantic City and its struggling casinos, vetoing measures that included the changes he demanded when he vetoed them the first time.
Atlantic City's mayor said the decision increases the chances his cash-strapped city will have to file for bankruptcy.
The Republican presidential candidate took no action on the three bills by Tuesday's deadline, rendering them rejected in what is known as a "pocket veto."
Christie vetoed the package in November after the Legislature passed it the first time, requesting changes in how some aid was allocated and giving the state more control over when funds would flow to Atlantic City.
He did not immediately explain his reasons for Tuesday's rejection, but speaking last week while campaigning for the GOP presidential nomination in Iowa, Christie said he would have to decide "if in total it makes sense."
That drew immediate scorn from Atlantic City-area elected officials.
"New Jersey has joined 'Alice in Wonderland.' Gov. Christie has vetoed his own bills," said state Senator Jim Whelan, the former Democratic mayor of Atlantic City. "The Legislature concurred with his version of the bills, and now he is bizarrely vetoing them. Clearly, our 'tell it like it is' governor does not mean what he says."
Atlantic City officials say the cash-strapped city is desperate for aid; an emergency manager for Atlantic City appointed by Christie said the city could run out of money by early April.
"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," Mayor Don Guardian said. "We needed a decision and anticipated an answer on this crucial bill many, many months ago. So much time was wasted."
Christie's veto leaves Atlantic City in an even more dire financial position, and could strengthen the hand of elected officials pushing for a state takeover of the resort. State Senate President Steve Sweeney, a likely Democratic candidate for governor next year, has introduced a bill that would give the state vast authority over Atlantic City, including the right to make most major decisions, and sell off city assets and land.
The centerpiece of the package that was shot down Tuesday is a bill that would allow the city's eight casinos make payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for 15 years. The casinos would get cost certainty, and would be prohibited from appealing their taxes.
The revised bill would require the casinos to make $50 million in additional payments over seven years and would share 13.5 percent of the money collected from the casinos with Atlantic County's government and the city's schools to help prevent tax increases for those entities. It also includes revenue streams other than gambling when calculating how much the casinos owe, which effectively sets a collective minimum of $120 million per year for the eight casinos.
Other bills would have had the $30 million a year that would have continued to fund the soon-to-be-defunct Atlantic City Alliance, which helped market the resort, be held by the state for two years until the city adopts a financial reform package acceptable to the state. The money would have gone straight to the city under the original version of the bill.
A third bill would have redirected casino redevelopment investment taxes toward helping pay down the city's debt.
The Casino Association of New Jersey said the gambling houses need to know what is coming.
"At this late hour we are simply looking for the endgame," the group said in a statement Tuesday. "This process has dragged on too long, and the city and its residents and businesses are suffering as a result of lawmakers' inability to get this done."
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