State lawmakers call for compromise on Atlantic City takeover bill

Christian Hetrick, Press of Atlantic City

Atlantic City picked up additional allies in fighting a state takeover of the resort on Monday, as the war of words continued over the city’s looming cash crisis.

Two more Assembly members and a state senator came out against the proposed state takeover, which would let the Local Finance Board director sell city assets, eliminate city departments and terminate collective bargaining agreements, among other powers for five years.

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex, called on Gov. Chris Christie to work with the Assembly to find a compromise on the takeover bill. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto has refused to post the bill until its amended to protect union contracts.

“The Governor has adamantly refused to negotiate with the Assembly or accept any changes to the bills from their current form,” Caputo said in a statement. “This is an ineffective and dangerous way to govern, especially at such a critical moment.”

Caputo said Christie’s refusal to work with the Assembly was an insult to the Legislative body and called on all Assembly members to stand with Prieto.

Hours later, Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, and Sen. Ronald Rice, D-Essex, issued similar statements.

“I commend Speaker Prieto for taking a measured and thoughtful approach to the situation and standing up against tremendous pressure while the Governor refuses to negotiate in good faith with one half of the state legislature,” Huttle said.

Rice said: “The Governor has chosen to abdicate all responsibility and instead vilify the public servants who put their life on the line every day."

Caputo, Huttle and Rice join Assemblyman John. F. McKeon, D-Essex, Morris, as state lawmakers to issue statements siding with Prieto on the issue.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Christie issued a statement again calling on Prieto to post the takeover bill to fix the city’s finances.

“With the clock ticking, the Assembly Speaker continues to play public sector union politics at the expense of the residents of Atlantic City and Atlantic County. It’s time for the games to end, and for Speaker Prieto to post the bill,” stated Brian Murray, spokesman for Christie.

Atlantic City runs out of money on April 8 and plans to shut down the government for three weeks, except for essential services. The city has $437 million in debt and its ratable base has fallen from $20.5 billion in 2010 to an estimated $6.57 billion in 2016.