TRENTON — A state Assembly panel advanced a bill Monday that would add a $2 daily fee on Atlantic City hotel rooms to fund the city’s police and fire departments, which are facing deep cuts under a state takeover.
The Assembly Appropriations Committee released the bill by an 8-0 vote with three abstentions. The bill can now be considered by the full Assembly, although the measure still hasn’t been introduced in the state Senate.
The bill, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Bergen, Hudson, would impose a $2 temporary surcharge for each occupied hotel room in the city. The fee would last two years, and all revenue would go to city public safety departments.
Proponents of the bill, such as the state AFL-CIO’s Eric Richard, said it would help avoid “dangerous staffing reductions” at the departments.
Richard testified state officials are seeking $14 million in givebacks from the city’s public safety unions by Feb. 1. The $2 fee, he said, would raise $8 million annually.
“The last thing we need for a struggling city like Atlantic City … is to have a perception this city is now unsafe due to public safety layoffs,” he said.
Bill DiLorenzo, president of the city’s firefighters union, said state officials have proposed cutting 106 firefighters. He said the department’s call volume is up 23 percent over its five-year average this year, mostly due to delivery of the opiate antidote Narcan for drug overdoses. The bill would keep the city safe for the two years, when the union “will be at the budget number we need to be,” he said.
“They’re building a university in the city, they’re building a South Jersey Gas (headquarters), and with that they’re going to cut the manpower by 54 percent,” DiLorenzo said of potential layoffs.
Bob Marshall, representing the Greater Atlantic City Chamber, testified against the bill, saying it would further put the city at a competitive disadvantage.
He cited a study commissioned by Meet AC, the city’s conventions bureau, that showed hotel taxes already make up 19 percent on casino rooms and 15 percent on noncasino rooms renting for $100. The 19 percent tax share was higher than hotel rooms in cities such as Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore.
“Clearly in a resort town that relies primarily on tourism — whether through conventions, trade shows or general visits — this would severely affect the ability to compete with other towns for those conferences, trade shows and meetings,” he said.
In a statement issued after the vote, Prieto said the bill is a temporary solution for the next two years, “which is hopefully enough time for the city’s finances to be righted and smart decisions to be made about the city’s future.”
The state hasn’t commented on the labor negotiations. On Wednesday, State Local Government Services Director Timothy Cunningham said there has been a lot of misinformation on the labor talks, but he declined to comment further.
A spokesman for the Senate Majority Office declined comment. A spokesman for the Governor’s Office did not return a request for comment.