AC on the precipice as Christie drags his feet

In Gov. Christie’s pell-mell rush toward the presidency one of many crises he left unattended by the roadside has been action to help Atlantic City and County. It is not as if the woes of this area came upon us suddenly. Gaming revenue peaked in 2006 at $5.21 billion, but with competition from other states it dropped each year to  $2.74 billion in 2014. The dominos began falling in 2014 when the Atlantic Club Casino shuttered in January, soon followed by Showboat, Trump Plaza, and most spectacularly the $2 billion Revel. Atlantic City tax revenue decreased precipitously, unemployment zoomed upward, bond ratings tanked to junk status, social services were overwhelmed, and despair was left in its wake. Now if action is not taken quickly there is the possibility of AC bankruptcy. Like cancer it could spread to other struggling NJ cities dependent on good ratings to finance bonds and loans.

We have a state government and its Division of Local Government Services established to step in and prevent such a calamity. However, the boss is otherwise occupied, like Nero fiddling while Rome burns. Yes, we need private business creativity and city/county solutions but the magnitude of the crisis calls out for state action. After five years in office all we have seen is Christie’s failed 2010-2011 AC revival plan that included tax breaks to restart construction of Revel. That was followed recently by more foot dragging with three Christie “summits” in AC, which included the installation of a financial team but little concrete action.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, determined to prevent AC from “becoming Detroit,” in November proposed a package of bills. He asked that Christie get involved and offer support before the legislature votes on them. There has been no word from the governor on the matter. Christie has provided AC extra time to repay a loan but has been relying on the emergency financial consultants he hired in January and ordered to find fixes by March. At the end of March the consultants issued a report but said they needed another three months. Now time is running out.

Starting tomorrow some of you will attend the NJ Democratic State Committee Conference in AC (at the more remote, cloistered Harrahs) and further into the summer some of you will visit AC. Take a stroll on the upper end of the boardwalk where three casinos closed, drive or walk along lower Atlantic and Pacific Avenues, and talk with residents, business people, local officials and social service providers about what is going on and what is needed here. Christie of course just helicopters in, attends a private “summit,” and helicopters out after a brief pronouncement. He needs to do more and do so quickly. Yesterday he announced his grand plan for the U. S. economy. How about one for AC?

AC on the precipice as Christie drags his feet

In Gov. Christie’s pell-mell rush toward the presidency one of many crises he left unattended by the roadside has been action to help Atlantic City and County. It is not as if the woes of this area came upon us suddenly. Gaming revenue peaked in 2006 at $5.21 billion, but with competition from Pennsylvania and other states it dropped each year to to $2.74 billion in 2014. The dominos began falling in 2014 when the Atlantic Club Casino shuttered in January, soon followed by Showboat, Trump Plaza, and most spectacularly the $2 billion Revel. Atlantic City tax revenue decreased precipitously, unemployment zoomed upward, bond ratings tanked to junk status, social services were overwhelmed, and despair was left in its wake. Now if action is not taken quickly there is the possibility of AC bankruptcy. Like cancer it could spread to other struggling NJ cities dependent on good ratings to finance bonds and loans.

We have a state government and a Department of Community Affairs established to step in and prevent such a calamity. However, its boss is otherwise occupied, like Nero fiddling while Rome burns. Yes, we need private business creativity and city/county solutions but the magnitude of the crisis calls out for state action. After five years in office all we have seen is Christie’s failed 2010-2011 AC revival plan that included tax breaks to restart construction of Revel. That was followed recently by more foot dragging with three key Christie “summits” in AC, which included the installation of a financial team but little concrete action and no visible sign of improvement in the economy or well-being of the area.  

Senate President Steve Sweeney, determined to prevent AC from “becoming Detroit,” in November proposed a package of bills. He asked that Christie get involved and offer support before the legislature votes on them. There has been no word from Christie on the matter. Christie has provided AC extra time to repay a loan but has been relying on the emergency financial consultants he hired in January and ordered to find fixes by March. At the end of March the consultants issued a report but said they needed another three months. Now time is running out.

This weekend some of you will attend the NJ Democratic State Committee Conference in AC (at the more remote, cloistered  Harrahs)  and further into the summer some of you will visit AC. Take a stroll on the upper end of the boardwalk where three casinos closed, drive or walk along lower Atlantic and Pacific Avenues, and talk with residents, business people, local officials and social service providers about what is going on and what is needed here. Christie of course just helicopters in, attends a private “summit,” and helicopters out after a brief pronouncement. He needs to do more and do so quickly. And we should to tell him so.

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