Atlantic City Averts Shutdown for Now by Deferring Paychecks

  • State assembly speaker to introduce different takeover bill
  • City would scrape by to June with longer pay periods

Atlantic City averted an unprecedented partial shutdown slated for Friday by lengthening the time between employee paychecks, while New Jersey officials continued to bicker over providing state assistance to the beleaguered gaming hub.

State Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto introduced fresh legislation Thursday in Trenton that would establish benchmarks for the city to meet before state and city officials overseeing its operations could take steps such as selling its assets and changing contracts. Governor Chris Christie called the proposal "completely ineffective.”

The City Council unanimously voted late Wednesday to extend workers’ pay periods to 28 days instead of every two weeks, which would keep the community solvent to June, said Council President Marty Small. Mayor Don Guardian had warned last month that without state help, the city would run out of money in April until tax collections trickle in during May.

“It buys a little time,” Small said in a telephone interview Thursday. “Hopefully things will settle with the state by then.”

Takeover Dispute

The move comes as Christie and Prieto trade barbs while pursuing different avenues to help the city and prevent ripple effects for other New Jersey municipalities. The seaside resort has been battered by the expansion of gaming in other states, and Christie’s rejection of measures that would have diverted gambling funds to the city created a $33.5 million hole in its budget.

Christie is pushing legislation supported by the Senate’s Democratic leader that would provide a cash infusion and give the state control over the city’s operations. Prieto opposes provisions that would let the administration change or end contracts.

On Thursday, Prieto’s bill unanimously passed a legislative committee in a room filled with union representatives. It may be voted on next week, Prieto said.

“It gives an opportunity for the mayor and the council to do their thing,” Prieto said before the vote.

Christie told reporters in Trenton Thursday that he was phoned three times in a half hour that morning with updates on changes to the legislation, a sign that he said means the bill was poorly and hastily crafted.

In 2018, Christie said, his term will end. The Prieto bill would allow for contract changes in three years, when Democrats are counting on controlling the governor’s office. It’d be unlikely, he said, for a Democratic executive to alter agreements with unions, which historically support the party with campaign donations.

"He thinks we’re all stupid," Christie said of Prieto.

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