Amended versions of three New Jersey bills aiming to stabilize Atlantic City’s faltering economy received final Senate approval Thursday, sealing their passage in both houses of the Legislature. The anchor of the proposal, A3981, calls for a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes plan to stabilize the town’s fiscal health. A3984 would reallocate a casino tax that’s being used for redevelopment projects to help the city pay debt service on municipal bonds, and A3985 would drop a five-year obligation to use casino revenue for marketing purposes so those funds can be redirected to the city coffers.
Lawmakers called the legislation a step toward fiscal recovery for the shore town, which lost four of its 12 casinos to bankruptcies or closures in the past two years and faces a spate of tax appeals settled in casinos’ favor. Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, called on Gov. Chris Christie, who conditionally vetoed the bills in November, to sign the modified versions into law immediately.
Gov. Chris Christie had conditionally vetoed the bills in November, commending the Legislature for its efforts to stabilize the city but warning that certain provisions simply shifted resources to the city without demanding accountability on the part of those who would receive the funds or benefit from the “unique tax payment arrangements.”
The governor amended the 3981 bill to eliminate the creation of a PILOT council comprised of casino owners and stipulated that the Local Finance Board, in conjunction with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, would determine the amount of the PILOT payments. A provision requiring casino owners to sign agreements with the city to make the payments was also added. Under the conditional veto, the other two bills would only go into effect upon the passage of A3981.
The legislation was part of a five-bill package introduced in December 2014. In November, Christie signed into law another part of the package, A3983, that would provide additional state money to the city’s struggling public schools, but gave absolute veto to A3982, which would have required casinos to provide proof they are providing “suitable” health care and retirement benefits to employees.
The Senate gave 329-6 passage to A3981, 32-4 passage to A3984 and 36-1 approval to A3985. Each bill was sponsored by Mazzeo, Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli, D-Cumberland.
The legislation’s other supporters included Assemblyman Paul D. Moriarty, D-Gloucester, who co-sponsored d A3981 and A3984; Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak, D-Cape May County, who sponsored A3985 and A3981; and Assemblyman Thomas P. Giblin, D-Passaic, who sponsored A3984 and A3985.
Atlantic City’s financial situation has been dire for some time. Twelve casinos made up 70 percent of annual property taxes in Atlantic City as of 2013, but competition from surrounding states and other factors have left the city with eight operating casinos and a tax base that dropped from $20.5 billion in 2010 to $7.3 billion. Christie in January 2015 tapped an emergency manager for the city, after which Moody’s Investors Service slashed the municipality’s bond rating.