[toc]Earlier this month, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wrangled control of Atlantic City from local officials. But Christie was curiously silent about the state’s takeover of the city during the recent New Jersey League of Municipalities’ annual conference, which was held in AC.
The backstory on AC
The closure of five of 12 casinos since 2014 has decimated Atlantic City — most recently the Trump Taj Mahal. Its municipal tax revenue has fallen by more than 70 percent over the past six years. Tax receipts plummeted from $21 billion in 2010 to just $6 billion this past fiscal year.
The city has suffered from increased gambling competition from Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New York casinos. AC is approximately $500 million in debt as a result of decreased tax collections.
On Nov. 1, New Jersey’s Department of Community Affairs rejected local leaders’ recovery efforts. Eight days later the state’s Local Finance Board approved a five-year takeover plan that does not allow for bankruptcy.
The AC mayor on the takeover
Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian rallied against Christie and the takeover earlier in the week. He told other urban mayors at a roundtable discussion that he needed a governor who “won’t take over Atlantic City, but rather one that will lend us a helping hand.”
Guardian admitted to the Press of Atlantic City that he expected Christie to use Thursday’s podium as a chance to retaliate. That never happened, however.
“Obviously, I was surprised he did not,” Guardian told the newspaper.
The takeover continues
Christie’s longtime ally, Jeffrey Chiesa, will oversee the state’s takeover. The former New Jersey attorney general — and briefly U. senator — Chiesa will have unprecedented power in his position as Atlantic City’s debt-restructuring czar. That will include the ability to sell off city assets, hire and fire workers and negate previously signed union contracts.
Guardian has threatened to sue on the city’s behalf if the takeover goes too far. He said earlier in the week he didn’t believe the state had done anything unconstitutional.
“I am committed to improving essential government and community services for the people of the Atlantic City,” Chiesa said in a statement. “I will listen to the people and work hand in hand with local stakeholders to create solutions that will prevent waste and relieve generations of taxpayers from the burden of long-term debt. We will put Atlantic City back on a path to fiscal stability.”
Guardian and city councilors will handle Atlantic City’s day-to-day operations. Chiesa will be in charge of paying off the city’s debt, which includes an approximate $100 million annual budget deficit.