This from the Department of It Can Now Be Revealed: State leaders have thought for years that the state should manage Atlantic City and its casino development.
Former Gov. Donald DeFrancesco is the latest to suggest that something similar to the current state takeover of Atlantic City finances should have happened decades ago. He told the State League of Municipalities Conference in the city in mid-November that the state should have had “some form of control over the development of the casino industry and Atlantic City” starting in 1977.
In October, the architect of legal casino gambling in New Jersey, former state Sen. Steven Perskie, said the administration of Gov. Brendan Byrne suggested that he make state control through a regional authority part of the Casino Control Act.
Perskie said the administration backed off, in part due to his opposition. But he changed his view over time to thinking “it probably would have been the smarter thing to do.”
The state has had other, fleeting flirtations with taking over Atlantic City — when its mayor, two council members and one former councilman were arrested in 1989, and when its mayor went missing in 2007 after reports he lied about his military record.
But those are possible responses to crises, not a well-reasoned consideration of this question: Would it have been better for the state, the region and even Atlantic City itself not to have left so much responsibility for a multibillion industry and revenue stream in the hands of a small and historically corrupt local government?
Other former governors at the league conference backed the current state takeover without commenting on how long they’ve thought it a good idea.
Jim McGreevey said Mayor Don Guardian is a friend, but one he disagrees with about the takeover. McGreevey said he “firmly believes” state control and with it state availability of resources is “the right thing to do.”
Former Gov. Jim Florio said his administration could see 25 years ago that there would inevitably be difficulties in Atlantic City. He said his support for changing how things are done in the city slightly exceeds his wariness of state takeovers after the one in Camden.
While the city and region wait for Jeffrey Chiesa, the former state attorney general and U.S. senator in charge of the takeover, to announce specifics of the state’s plan for Atlantic City, some good already has come of the change.
Debt-rating service Moody’s said this week the takeover is a credit positive for Atlantic City, probably eliminating the threat that its lenders won’t get repaid until at least the end of next year.
We can only imagine what might have been done better in Atlantic City’s casino era with state oversight and planning. But then again, with the state barely able to balance its own books, it’s easy to imagine not much.