Governor Chris Christie continues to sit on a package of bills designed to stabilize Atlantic City’s casino tax base and that’s led to warnings that the inaction could cause more casinos to close in the gambling resort.
The Casino Association of New Jersey is calling for Christie—who is busy running for president these days—to make a decision on the bills. The bills were passed by the state legislature in June.
One of the major bills in the package would set a payment in lieu of taxes in place for city casinos. The casinos would make a set tax payment for the next 15 years, which would stop a long string of casino tax appeals—most of which have been successful—that have been systematically stripping the city of tax revenue. Supporters say the bills would stabilize the city’s casino tax revenue and allow it to address debt and other financial problems.
But Christie has not commented on the bills and has now been holding it for over a month. Meanwhile, he has been campaigning non-stop for the Republican presidential nomination.
“The bills are not signed and the city’s crisis continues unabated with the clock winding down if swift action is not taken,” the association said in a press statement.
“Every day the proposed legislation is not adopted is another day that the city remains at significant risk of additional casino closures, job losses and further business declines, threatening non-casino businesses and residents in the city and throughout the county,” the group’s statement said. “We cannot afford to waste any more time.”
The association said it did not know the reason for Christie’s delay, but did outline some possible problems with the bills.
The bills have raised concerns from Atlantic County officials that the county’s share of casino taxes is not set. A group of Atlantic County mayors in July have called on Christie to conditionally veto the PILOT bill in order to mandate a 13.5 percent revenue-sharing arrangement, according to the Press of Atlantic City.
The association called “on all officials in the city, county and state to stop the quarreling and take immediate steps to get this legislation executed.”
Christie appointed an emergency management team in January to help Atlantic City out of its fiscal problems, and reports have also surfaced that the team would also like to see some changes to the bill.
Christie could conditionally veto the bill, which would send it back to the legislature for changes. The state’s limited rules to allow a governor to exercise a “pocket veto,” however, do not apply to the bills.
Christie doesn’t have to act on the bills until the state Assembly reconvenes at least 45 days from the date the bills passed. Then, If Christie does not act, the bills become law.
The 45 days expires this month, but Democratic Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto hasn’t yet scheduled any full sessions of the Assembly for the remainder of the year, Jennifer Sciortino, a spokeswoman for the Assembly majority’s office told the Press.
Under the plan, the casinos would pay $150 million in total for the next two years and then $120 million after that if gaming revenues are steady. Four other bills would provide additional state funding for the city’s schools, redirect money used for redevelopment projects and for the Atlantic City Alliance to help the city and require certain benefits for casino workers, a move the casino group does not support.
In a related story, Atlantic City’s debt rating has been cut further into “junk” status by Standard & Poor’s, which said the city has no “clear plan” to address its fiscal problems.
The resort was reduced three steps to B, the fifth level into junk, and may be lowered further, the ratings company said
The resort’s emergency management team issued a report in March, but little has changed in the city’s finances since then.
“The lack of clear and implementable reforms to restore fiscal solvency without payment deferrals or debt restructuring remains uncertain as the city continues to operate in a difficult fiscal environment,” S&P said in a statement.