A group of Atlantic County mayors on Monday called for Gov. Chris Christie to conditionally veto the PILOT legislation awaiting his signature. That development, coupled with an email suggesting Emergency Manager Kevin Lavin wants the bills changed, have called the PILOT’s future further into question.
In a June 10 email sent by Atlantic City Solicitor Jason Holt and obtained by The Press on Monday following an Open Public Records Act request, Holt wrote “it is my understanding that the Governor’s emergency management team has recommended changes to the pending legislation.”
In the email, Holt wrote he didn’t “have a document which encompasses the totality of those discussions between the Executive and Legislative branches in Trenton,” adding that, “I also do not know the outcome of those discussions.”
Bill Nowling, spokesman for Lavin, said Monday the emergency manager has discussed the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes legislation with staffers from the offices of Christie and Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney. But Nowling would not comment on either the content of those talks or on “speculation” surrounding them.
The Assembly passed the PILOT package, composed of five bills, on June 11, with the Senate following suit on June 25. Christie has not taken a public position on the legislation.
Holt’s email responded to concerns raised by Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson over the status of a PILOT revenue-sharing agreement worked out in January between Levinson and Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian.
That agreement would direct 13.5 percent of the PILOT payment — $150 million for two years and $120 million for 13 years after that — to the county. The deal was designed to prevent a county tax increase.
But in a June 30 letter sent to county officials, Levinson expressed concern the agreement had yet to be formalized.
At a closed-door meeting Monday, a group of county mayors voted to send Christie a resolution calling for the governor to conditionally veto the PILOT so he could add language mandating the 13.5 percent revenue-sharing arrangement. The resolution will also ask Christie to require that Atlantic City’s casinos are included in the county ratable base for purposes of calculating the county tax rate.
Levinson and the mayors have said that eliminating the casinos from that ratable base would mean county taxes would be calculated against a greatly diminished sum, increasing taxes in the process.
State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, a primary PILOT sponsor who attended the meeting, said he does not support calling for a conditional veto, adding that he thought the county was trying to claim more tax money than it did last year, despite the historic difficulties the region is facing.
Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, also in attendance, said he backed the resolution, though he reiterated his concerns with the PILOT.
“It makes no difference to me whether the PILOT bill is a Democrat or a Republican idea,” Brown said. “What matters to me is we get it right.”
Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, another primary sponsor at the meeting, said he voted for the resolution. However, Mazzeo added that he merely intended to express support for the 13.5 percent cost-sharing arrangement, not a conditional veto.
“Things can change in five or 10 years, so I don’t think we should put that into the bill,” Mazzeo said of the revenue deal. “That should always be a negotiation between the county and the city.”
Guardian said he voted in favor of the resolution without realizing the conditional veto language was included, a step he said he opposes. He said it was fair for the county to get 13.5 percent of the PILOT, but he added that the power to make that decision hasn’t rested with him since Christie appointed Lavin as emergency manager.
“The bottom line is, the mayor (of Atlantic City) agreed to 13.5 percent,” Levinson said. “The mayors never would have supported (the PILOT) if they thought they were going to get less. We expect the agreement to be honored.”
Were Christie to issue a conditional veto, the Legislature, currently out of session for the summer, would need to approve the governor’s changes before the bills become law.