Gov. Chris Christie urges Legislature to send him an approved Atlantic City aid bill

Industries Associated Press

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wants the state Legislature to approve and send him a package of bills aimed at turning around Atlantic City's struggling fortunes, a spokesman for the governor told The Associated Press on Friday.

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However, spokesman Kevin Roberts stopped short of saying whether the governor would sign them.

His comments came in response to a call by state Senate President Steve Sweeney for Christie to declare his support for the bills. The cornerstone of the package is a plan to let Atlantic City's eight casinos make payments in lieu of taxes, and redirect certain taxes and fees to help pay down some of the city's debt.

"The unfortunate circumstances in Atlantic City have been created not only by changing market conditions, but by decades of fiscal mismanagement of the city government by previous Atlantic City administrations," Roberts said. "This administration is the first to attempt to get to the root causes of this problem and not just put a temporary state financial band aid on the problem."

He said a preliminary report issued this week by emergency managers appointed by the governor lays out recommendations including layoffs and spending cuts that need to be considered in tandem with the package proposed by Sweeney and state Sen. Jim Whelan, a former Atlantic City mayor.

"The Governor looks forward to combining the efforts of the emergency manager with those of Mayor (Don) Guardian and the legislation proposed by the senate president to bring real, long lasting fiscal stability to Atlantic City," Roberts said. "Anything less than a combined approach would, unfortunately, once again shortchange Atlantic City's future. The Governor urges the Legislature to put just such legislation on his desk for signature."

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But Roberts said Christie would have to see the bills in final form before deciding whether to sign them.

Sweeney said he has held off putting the package up for a vote without the governor's explicit support, fearing that sending a mixed message to financial markets would only make things worse. Several Wall Street ratings agencies have downgraded Atlantic City's creditworthiness, and voiced concern over the finances of other New Jersey cities. The bills were set for a final vote in late December before being yanked at the last minute.

"The Atlantic City fiscal reform plan has gained a lot of support at the state and local levels, but without the governor's explicit support it would be counterproductive for the Legislature to send him the bills," Sweeney told the AP. "The absence of his support would send another negative message to Wall Street that could have added consequences for the city's financial stability. The administration has done enough harm already through its actions and its inaction."

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC