Chris Christie Atlantic City tax

Chris Christie says he’s waiting for input from an emergency management team before deciding whether he would sign a tax relief bill for Atlantic City casinos. (Image: Reuters)

Governor Chris Christie has vowed to help Atlantic City rebound from years of declining casino revenues, and one of the major proposals from the legislature to do just that is a tax relief plan that would stabilize the city’s finances.

But with key deadlines approaching, legislators, Governor Christie and Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian all appear to be playing a waiting game that can’t go on for much longer.

At issue is a tax relief plan proposed by State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester). Known as the Casino Property Taxation Stabilization Act, Sweeney’s bill would remove the uncertainty over property taxes that casinos would have to pay over the next 15 years, instead having them make fixed payments in lieu of taxes each year.

Property Tax Dispute Deadline Approaching

If that plan is to go into effect this year, however, the casinos would need it to happen soon. April 1 is the deadline for Atlantic City casinos to file appeals over their property tax assessments for this year, a process that has cost Atlantic City about $400 million in tax revenue over the last few years. If the new bill were to pass into law, there would be no need for such appeals, as each casino would simply pay a fixed amount rather than rely on an assessment to determine their tax burden.

Sweeney’s plan has support in both the State Senate and the State Assembly, where Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-Atlantic County) has sponsored an identical package of bills. It has also been endorsed by Guardian, the Republican mayor of the city. However, Governor Christie has yet to endorse the plan, saying he wants to see what the emergency management team that he has put in charge of Atlantic City’s recovery recommends.

“What’s the holdup?” Sweeney asked last week. “We have the votes to pass it. The Atlantic County executive and the freeholders are for it. They’re all on board. It’s the administration.”

Bills Waiting on Support from Governor

Sweeney said that the bills are ready to be voted on, but that he would not start the process until he was certain that Christie would sign them into law. Christie has previously said that Sweeney’s plan and other ideas may not go far enough in creating “a plan for long-term success in Atlantic City.”

Guardian, however, thinks the bills are critical for his city’s future.

“Our residents and business owners alike need these bills to be passed,” Guardian said. “I’m confident that everyone involved with the process will see how important they are to Atlantic City’s long-term property-tax stabilization and will pass them.”

The Casino Association of New Jersey agreed, saying in January that is was necessary to pass such a relief plan if the gaming industry was to survive in the state.

“Make no mistake. Without this plan, certain casinos that remain in Atlantic City are at risk,” the group said in a statement urging the bill to be passed and signed by the governor.

New Jersey residents appear to be on board with the idea of supporting Atlantic City as well, even if it requires state assistance. In a recent poll by the Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics, 57 percent of New Jersey respondents said that they believe Atlantic City should receive state assistance, while just 35 percent said the city should handle its issues alone.