Gov. Chris Christie’s office declined to provide an update Monday on the future of the casino payment-in-lieu of-taxes, or PILOT, bills recently passed by the Legislature.
But amid the silence from the governor’s office, lawmakers continued to disagree over the bills.
“We are stabilizing the tax rate for the casinos at the expense of our working families,” Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic said Monday.
State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, a primary PILOT sponsor, said Christie’s administration has been aware of the bill for seven months, but given no input therefore it should be signed quickly.
The State Senate approved the legislation on June 25, after the Assembly passed it on June 11.
The five-part package sets collective casino payments at $120 million for 12 years, so long as gross gaming revenue stays close to current levels, directs a significant portion of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority’s budget to municipal debt service, and repurposes the Atlantic City Alliance’s budget for city coffers.
It also requires casinos to provide “suitable” healthcare and retirement benefits for union employees, and allows the state’s education commissioner to direct extra funding to Atlantic City’s school district.
“As a matter of general practice, the Governor’s office does not issue statements on proposed or pending legislation until a final bill has been received and the Governor’s office has had time to fully review the legislation,” said Christie spokesman Brian Murray on Monday.
Christie’s office hasn’t commented in the PILOT since March.
“The Governor looks forward to combining the efforts of the Emergency Manager with those of Mayor Guardian and the legislation proposed by the Senate President to bring real, long lasting fiscal stability to Atlantic City,” spokesman Kevin Roberts said at the time. “The Governor urges the Legislature to put just such legislation on his desk for signature.”
Bill Nowling, the new spokesman for Atlantic City Emergency Manager Kevin Lavin, said Lavin “has had meetings and discussions with the governor's staff about the legislation” and “is awaiting Governor Christie's decision” on it.
Lavin has never taken a public position on the PILOT. His March report assumed passage of some form of PILOT plan, though it noted that step “may require adjustment to the current proposal.”
On Monday, Nowling said only that Lavin “will speak more specifically about the legislation once the governor announces his decision.”
Whelan said he thought a potential veto would most likely target the school funding measure. He expressed support for that provision, noting that Atlantic City’s schools have traditionally received a fraction of the state support received by other municipalities.
The 2015-2016 school budget approved by state school monitor Gary McCartney includes $20 million in additional state aid, an expense the PILOT would authorize.
“I haven’t heard anything from the governor’s office,” said Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, also a PILOT primary sponsor along with Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland. “I will continue to try to reach out and see if I can get some answers, but I’m hopeful (the governor will) sign the bills the way they are.”
“I still have grave concerns regarding the substance of the legislation, and I’m hopeful the governor and his legal council will thoroughly vet the package of bills before signing them into law,” Brown said.
Brown was a vocal opponent of the legislation, but he backed it after helping negotiate a PILOT funding arrangement between Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian and Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson. Even so, he has continued to express objections to its structure.