Bob McDevitt of Atlantic City, has served as president of Local 54 of UNITE-HERE since 1996.

State lawmakers had an icy reaction to news that the largest casino-workers union, Local 54, would sue to block the $200 million proposed tax rebate for the developers of Revel casino. Senate President Steve Sweeney said Friday he was disappointed in the decision, which he attributed to Bob McDevitt, the head of Local 54 and a longtime opponent of state assistance for the new but delayed casino.

“He’s suing on a technicality — and that’s why it’s a waste of his members’ money,” Sweeney said of McDevitt’s lawsuit. In early February, the administration of Gov. Chris Christie agreed to prioritize a state sales tax rebate for Revel, a casino hotel worth roughly $2.5 billion but currently half-built. The state’s offer amounts to $261 million in possible sales tax that Revel would accrue over 20 years once it opens. That tax will be forgiven provided the casino invests in infrastructure and blight-reduction throughout its South Inlet neighborhood.

But McDevitt said last week the union would sue to challenge that award, based on arguing that state officials violated the state’s public-meeting requirements when the agency in charge of the deal, the Economic Development Authority, approved the tax breaks last month. Sweeney made clear on Friday he does not want to see a re-run of a fight that made headlines exactly a year ago, when McDevitt led a coalition of his members and small-government advocates led by Seth Grossman, and opposed an earlier version of the tax break.

He did not discount McDevitt’s fears that the opening of a new casino with state help could lead to the closing of existing properties. With Revel’s opening, and the arrival of new 200-room casinos, he said, “He’s right, they might have a couple of places close. But that might lead to new investment.” 

He compared Atlantic City to a retail mall. “Look at a mall — every 20 years, you’ll see a major facelift done, where they spend a ton of money. It’s the same place, they just make it look new.” 

Fear of change was not going to help Atlantic City survive, he said. “We can’t protect the status quo.”

He concluded: “I think Bob’s not seeing the big picture.” 

Other state lawmakers were even less understanding.

Sen. Ray Lesniak, D-Union, who was a main proponent of the legislation which opened the door for the EDA to grant the tax-rebate, sent around news of Local 54’s action under the heading: “A special place in Hell.”

* * *

Steep state cuts to libraries look likely to cause closings of local branches before students even come home for summer recess. 

Lawmakers this week decided to act to try to prevent some of the closings, which could mean an end to remedial literacy programs for struggling students, as well as denying book lovers of all ages somewhere to grab a good summer read.

The cuts have hit close to home, with news that Cumberland County may close its library under a current budget proposal.

A library-funding bill sponsored by Assembly members Upendra J. Chivukula, D-Middlesex, Somerset,  Ruben J. Ramos Jr., D-Hudson, and Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen,  was signed into law this week. The measure will make sure all libraries have a dedicated line item, rather than leaving them to budget under a general municipal fund.

Keeping library funding separate from the general municipal fund means it’s less likely to be diverted.

“By providing fiscal parity, this measure will help keep the doors of more libraries open,” said Chivukula.

* * *

With further moves in Trenton to repeal an early-release law — which some Republicans say has allowed two men convicted of serious crimes and released early to reoffend — the issue has arrived in an Atlantic County state Senate race.

Republican Assemblyman Vince Polistina, who is challenging Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, for his seat, charged Friday that Whelan was instrumental in the passage of the original legislation. 

Polistina said Whelan cast the deciding vote for passage of the law, which passed in late 2009. 

“Jim Whelan would like people to believe that he’s a middle-of-the-road, moderate Democrat, but nothing could be further than the truth. And his support of this outrageously bad legislation proves it,” said Polistina.

Whelan said Friday he would not comment immediately on Polistina’s criticism. 

Republicans in the state Senate and Assembly are busy with legislation to close the loophole, urged on by Gov. Chris Christie, who has repeatedly tried to tie Democratic lawmakers who supported that early-release provision to instances of crimes committed by reoffenders on early-release.

People and Power by Juliet Fletcher, The Press of Atlantic City’s Statehouse Bureau reporter, appears every Sunday. Fletcher can be reached at: 


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