Assembly plans new bill to help Atlantic City

Atlantic City Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto says he plans to introduce new legislation to establish benchmarks that Atlantic City would have to meet before the state could take over its finances.

The Democrat's statements on Tuesday are the latest attempt at reaching an agreement with Republican Gov. Chris Christie on how to help the financially struggling resort town.

"There has to be a give-and-take,'' Prieto said. "Even if you fire every employee in Atlantic City that still wouldn't get you out of the hole.''

Christie has said he will only support the takeover bill that has passed the state Senate and that the city has had six years and failed to make hard decisions.

"I'm not going to go in and take over Atlantic City with one hand tied behind my back,'' Christie said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Christie and Prieto are wrangling about giving the state authority over the city's finances. Prieto objects to legislation approved by the state Senate and backed by Christie, saying it jeopardizes unions' bargaining rights.

Prieto said he hopes to introduce the measure before Thursday's voting session. But he did not provide further details about the proposed benchmarks.

The back-and-forth over the takeover proposal has been simmering for weeks.

Christie on Monday directed his education commissioner to sue the city to prevent it from making a payroll payment Friday because he said it owes its school district $34 million through July.

Atlantic City's city council is set to vote Wednesday on converting workers to a 28-day pay period, which would keep city government functioning after the city runs out of money on Friday. The state's lawsuit could put that plan into question.

Christie has said the city's government has done too little to close a $100 million budget gap and owes more than $150 million to the Borgata, which has prompted the casino to stop making tax payments. Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian responded that the city was taken out of the equation to negotiate with the Borgata after an executive order last year setting up an emergency manager.

Guardian, a Republican, opposes the takeover legislation backed by Christie and the Senate.

Atlantic City's financial crisis was brought about by the contraction of its casino industry, mainly due to ever-growing competition from casinos in nearby states. The city's casino revenue has fallen from $5.2 billion in 2006 to $2.56 billion last year. In 2014, four of its 12 casinos went out of business.

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