Atlantic City casinos are pressuring Governor Chris Christie to step off the political campaign trail for a minute and hike back to Trenton to sign a package of rescue bills. The measures were approved by both the Assembly and State Senate in June, and have been since sitting on his desk for final approval ever since.
The Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ) says the bills, particularly the Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) program, is critical for the city as a whole.
“As the clock continues to tick while we wait for Governor Christie to sign the Atlantic City Revitalization legislation, the price of inaction continues to grow and the fate of Atlantic City and the region hang in the balance,” CANJ said in its press release.
Christie’s Cold Feet
Atlantic City can still claim the streets of the famous Parker Brothers board game, but its monopoly on the gambling industry has long disappeared. Once considered the East Coast gambling mecca, but now in varying states of disrepair and financial anguish, the resort gaming town thought it had Christie’s support for a recovery measure back in March when state lawmakers were debating the issue.
“The governor looks forward to … the legislation proposed by the Senate President to bring real, long lasting fiscal stability to Atlantic City,” Kevin Roberts, Christie’s spokesman, said in March. “The governor urges the legislature to put just such legislation on his desk for signature.”
The bills the legislature agreed upon is a five-part package that is centered around the PILOT program, allowing the eight remaining casinos to avoid fluctuating tax rates in favor of a stabilized payment system. The other four mandates would create a state education fund for the city, guarantee health insurance, and retirement benefits for casino workers, divert monies to redevelopment projects, and eliminate the Atlantic City Alliance and reinvest its $30 million annual budget.
“Every day that the proposed legislation is not adopted reduces the amount of revenue that the city may receive under the funding and jeopardizes the stability sought to be achieved by the legislation package, threatening non-casino Atlantic City businesses and residents and taxpayers across the county,” CANJ said.
Similar to the federal government’s bailout of the US subprime mortgage crisis in 2008, the bills aren’t popular among all parties in New Jersey, and letting the casinos off the hook for their tax responsibilities is certainly seen as a bailout.
But CANJ claims without these measures, more venues will struggle to pay on their now over-assessed properties.
CANJ also says that Christie’s holdup will cost Atlantic City $50 million as taxes from casinos go to Trenton instead of being reinvested locally. “That means the city would need to replace that revenue by other sources, presumably the property taxpayers of Atlantic City,” CANJ stated.
It appears the governor is backtracking from the deal, as giving casinos a free stack of chips could come back to haunt him on the 2016 presidential campaign trail. The two-term Republican state leader is trying to make his case for the presidential ticket and appeal to more conservative voters, but that might be difficult considering his approval rating in the Garden State is currently at 37 percent. Nationwide, latest polls show him with the backing of a dismal three percent of likely GOP voters.
That puts Christie well behind another person who abandoned Atlantic City awhile back: Republican front-runner Donald Trump.