ATLANTIC CITY – New Jersey lawmakers on Monday passed a bill that would extend the state’s takeover of most of Atlantic City’s key decision-making powers by four years.
If the bill is enacted by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, the state will have been in charge of the main functions of the gambling resort for nine years after the last measure.
The move came the same day two members of city council called on New Jersey State Police to take control of the Atlantic City Police Department amid an upsurge in violent crime. Recent incidents include a fatal shooting Sunday night that left one dead and three others injured, and a fatal stab the day before that left one dead and a woman seriously injured.
The government takeover was proposed by former Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, and enacted by the Democratic-controlled state legislature in 2016.
It was designed to help the state bring out of control spending, high taxes, and poor governance in the gambling resort which, despite the presence of the casino industry, was in persistent financial trouble. Calls from casinos successfully challenging their tax assessments have left big holes in the city’s budget.
It deprived many municipal workers of the rights and protections of the public service, thereby facilitating changes in the way municipal services were staffed and run.
Atlantic City-area Democrat MP Vince Mazzeo called the bill “the first step in restoring Atlantic City’s self-government.”
He said an important provision of the bill restores job protection for municipal workers.
“It is important for the morale of the police and the fire department, on the understanding that we cannot go back to past practices with large increases in contracts,” Mazzeo said. “There is only some leeway in negotiating contracts, but I think it’s time to let everyone come back to the table and negotiate.”
Murphy, Christie’s Democratic successor, campaigned on a pledge to end the state takeover, a position he reversed shortly after taking office.
The city’s financial situation has improved since the takeover began, and Wall Street rating agencies have improved the city’s fiscal outlook.
State control was due to end this year.
On Monday, city council members Latoya Dunston and Moisse Delgado called for a state takeover of the police department.
“We desperately need action from the governor’s office and state police, not tomorrow, but today,” Dunston said.
Mayor Marty Small held a press conference an hour earlier intended to get ahead of one of the two council members during which he defended his administration’s efforts to equip and run the police department.
He also repeated a call for parents to control their children, saying “not all levels of government raise your children”.
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