New Jersey Assembly Vincent Prieto on Thursday detailed the many ways Gov. Chris Christie and his administration are neglecting their job and putting the state at risk by failing to use their existing authority to help Atlantic City through its fiscal crisis.
“This needs to be clear – Atlantic City is already under state supervision,” Prieto said. “We do not need an alternative to the unnecessary state takeover of Atlantic City, a move that would disenfranchise voters and trample collective bargaining rights. The Local Finance Board and the Department of Community Affairs already have power over the city’s finances to prevent a financial disaster. Gov. Christie needs to do his job. He makes Nero look like a man of action.”
The Speaker (D-Hudson/Bergen) noted Atlantic City has been under state supervision, pursuant to a 1947 state law, since 2010. This has included an emergency manager appointed by Gov. Christie via executive order. Also, Atlantic City has been receiving transitional aid that has been subject to a memorandum of understanding between the state and the city.
“This agreement allows the state to compel financial actions by Atlantic City,” Prieto said..” The question must be asked – why is Gov. Christie failing to act? What is his motive?”
The Speaker has consulted with financial and legal experts and the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services. He noted, for instance, the state, under its authority, can:
· Provide municipalities with emergency loans for up to 180 days – and allow for loan extensions – at typically low- or zero-percent interest;
· The Local Finance Board can adopt a plan of liquidation for the city’s current debt;
· The Local Finance Board cannot dissolve collective bargaining agreements, but can require that all new agreements entered into while the state is supervising the city be subject to review and approval;
· The Local Finance Board can authorize the municipality to dismiss unclassified persons in managerial positions;
· The Local Finance Board can authorize the fixing of hours and terms of employment for all municipal employees;
· Under a transitional aid agreement, the state can likely require the appointment of a fiscal control officer for Atlantic City.
· The Local Finance Board can require the city’s financial officer to issue special reports and hold hearings on the financial affairs of the city.
· It can also instruct the director of the Division of Local Government Services to exercise financial control over the city’s budget and finances.
“Wide-ranging authority already exists to save Atlantic City,” Prieto said. “Also, the memorandum of understanding between the city and the Local Finance Board could be made very restrictive and detailed, covering everything from personnel actions to professional services and related contracts. Still, the governor continues to stall, putting the state economy at risk.”
Prieto added, “It’s time for the governor to stop blaming others in between his out-of-state trips and instead do his job. The only power he clearly lacks is to destroy existing collective bargaining agreements – and everyone should know how I feel about protecting collective bargaining rights. This crisis could be resolved today if the state simply exercised its existing authority and provided the supervised help Atlantic City needs to right itself.”
Prieto said the city’s public workers shouldn’t be blamed for this crisis, noting the city’s police union, for instance, negotiated in good faith to cut 20 percent from the city’s police salary line item.
“The unions have negotiated in good faith,” Prieto said. “It’s time for everyone else to follow their example.”
The Speaker again called for all parties involved to get together and negotiate a resolution.
“Gov. Christie’s failure to act poses great risk to the state’s financial future,” Prieto said. “We could see lower credit ratings and more expensive borrowing if Atlantic City defaults. When the governor was spending most of last year out-of-state campaigning, he often boasted of his prowess as a compromising chief executive. Well, it’s time for that chief executive to do his job.”