N.J. Senators Introduce Legislation to Aid Atlantic City

Legislation introduced in New Jersey to rescue Atlantic City from fiscal distress would channel taxes on gambling revenue to pay municipal debt and give the state more say in the public-school system.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, New Jersey’s highest-ranking Democratic state lawmaker, and Senator Jim Whelan, a former mayor of Atlantic City, said their bills would bring stability to the seaside resort, where four of 12 casinos have closed this year and a fifth, Trump Taj Mahal, plans to shut this month.

Governor Chris Christie, a 52-year-old Republican in his second term, has struggled with a five-year plan to turn around the onetime U.S. East Coast gambling capital. Casino revenue dropped to $2.9 billion last year, from a peak of $5.2 billion in 2006, as Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and New York expanded gambling. Moody’s Investors Service dropped the city’s credit rating to junk in July because of dependence on the casino industry.

Christie “welcomes the Senate president’s proposals,” Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the governor, said in an e-mail. The city of 40,000 residents, where casinos account for as much as 70 percent of the tax base, should build on non-gambling attractions, including entertainment and retail, Christie has said. In November he suggested the possibility of an emergency manager.

Pay Debt

“As the Governor stated at the Atlantic City working group meeting last month, some of the reforms would require legislation,” Drewniak said.

Sweeney said conditions have “only gotten worse” since the meeting, Christie’s second summit with government officials and casino executives.

“My plan is designed to protect Atlantic City from bankruptcy and position the city for future economic growth,” Sweeney, from West Deptford, said in a statement issued with Whelan, who is also a Democrat.

Their legislation would authorize the casinos to make payments in lieu of taxes for a guaranteed revenue stream, redirect the Investment Alternative Tax to pay as much as $30 million annually in municipal debt, give the state a role in school oversight and require casinos to provide health and retirement benefits.

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