Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian said Tuesday that Gov. Chris Christie’s office supports returning the Municipal Utilities Authority to a city utility, but has not demanded any other changes from the resort.
Christie’s Monday veto of the casino payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, package redirects $60 million in casino payments over the next two years from the city to the state.
Under the conditional veto, Atlantic City cannot receive the funds until the state’s Local Finance Board approves a financial plan for the city.
Atlantic City needs the money to fill a major hole in its budget. The Assembly and Senate have until Jan. 12 to act on the veto. Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney said Monday that he would work with Christie to formulate a final plan for the city.
In explaining his veto, Christie said that many city actors had so far embraced “self-preservation and vacillation” instead of “fiscal restraint and strong leadership.”
Christie did not explain what actions the city hadn’t taken, as was the case in September when he said he was “disappointed” by City Council’s “unrealistic” decisions concerning the city’s future.
Christie’s office did not respond to multiple requests for clarification Monday and Tuesday.
On Tuesday, Councilman George Tibbitt said he thought the governor will use the $60 million as leverage to compel the city to sell or lease the MUA, regionalize its police force, and privatize its trash services.
Tibbitt said emergency manager Kevin Lavin had discussed all three ideas over the last year, and that while Guardian himself had expressed opposition, other members of his administration, such as Business Administrator Arch Liston, were open to the changes.
But Guardian said he didn’t know why Christie used such strong and sweeping language in his veto statement.
He said his administration has a “great relationship” with the governor’s office, adding that the city has worked very closely with Lavin and state monitor Ed Sasdelli to restructure the city’s finances.
For the currently independent utilities authority to be brought in-house, the city council would have to vote to dissolve it, a step Guardian said is likely to take place within 90 days.
The authority’s head Bruce Ward did not return a request for comment, but its solicitor Fred Bor said Tuesday that he has not been part of any recent discussions with the city.
Guardian said his administration would honor all of the authority’s labor contracts, but through a combination of attrition and increased rates for commercial customers, the authority could generate new money for the city.
The mayor backed off a previous statement, based on an analysis by Ernst & Young and city auditor Ken Moore, that the authority could bring in $6 million in new city revenue per year. Instead, he said the authority’s likely financial impact is still under investigation.