Christie won't help A.C., except through takeover

Christie Drug Treatment
Gov. Christie, while announcing an expanded drug intervention program, also answered questions about Atlantic City.

LONG BRANCH, N.J. - Gov. Christie will not step in to stop Atlantic City from shutting its city hall next month.

At a news conference Tuesday, Christie said it wouldn't be his responsibility if the seaside city - its tax base starved by a series of casino closures - goes bankrupt.

"I'm not opening the door to bankruptcy. [Assembly] Speaker Prieto and Mayor Guardian are opening the door to bankruptcy," the Republican governor said at the Monmouth Medical Center, where he was touting a program aimed at getting more drug overdose patients into treatment.

Mayor Don Guardian, a Republican, announced Monday that he would be forced to close the city hall for nearly a month starting April 8 and stop paying city workers - blaming Christie for failing to sign a bill that would have given Atlantic City $33.5 million in aid previously promised by the state.

The city, where four casinos shut down in 2014, owes hundreds of millions of dollars in tax appeals and debt to bond holders.

Christie, who has called for reining in the cost of Atlantic City's government, reiterated Tuesday that he would not sign an aid bill for the city unless lawmakers also approve a bill that would give the state control over city finances.

The takeover bill would enable the state to break labor agreements - a provision Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D., Hudson), opposes. Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) supports both bills.

Speaking with reporters Tuesday in Trenton, Prieto continued to call for a compromise that was fair to labor. "It can't be 'my way or the highway,' " Prieto said.

The speaker noted that the state has supervised Atlantic City since 2010 and blamed the governor for the crisis.

Christie did not budge.

"If both bills do not come to my desk in exactly their current form, I will not sign them," Christie said. "If what that means is that Atlantic City goes bankrupt, then go to Vincent Prieto's office and ask him why."

Faulting "the idea from Speaker Prieto that somehow public sector employees should be exempted from the sacrifice that needs to be made in Atlantic City," Christie said: "For God's sake, you have lifeguards who get pensions in Atlantic City."

State law requires those pensions.

Prieto said later Tuesday that he continued to oppose any bill giving the state the power to break collective bargaining agreements.

"If in a year from now, that was the last thing that was needed . . . I'd be all for it," he said. "But you have to do all the other things we need to do," including restructuring debt.

In regard to Tuesday's attack in Brussels, Christie said, "We have no intelligence to suggest a threat to New Jersey or any place in our region." But he said NJ Transit and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey were increasing security at train and rail stations and at Newark Liberty International Airport.

The governor, who dropped out of the presidential race last month, went on to share his views on the attack, for which ISIS claimed responsibility.

"For those who want to deny that we're in a war, I want them to look at the video they see from Brussels this morning," he said.

The governor is backing businessman Donald Trump, who said after Tuesday's attack that he "would close up our borders."

Christie said, "We're seeing in Europe what the effect of open borders for refugees is having." He referred to "not only civil disturbances in Germany and other places, but you also have to begin to wonder, as these cells develop in places all throughout the EU, whether or not this was a wise policy decision that was made in the EU."

Reports Tuesday did not indicate that refugees had played any role in the attack.

Christie also criticized President Obama's leadership, citing his trip to the "communist dictatorship" of Cuba. "I don't have a great degree of confidence in the fact that this president understands how to fight this fight," he said.

mhanna@phillynews.com

856-779-3232

@maddiehanna

www.philly.com/christiechronicles

Staff writer Andrew Seidman contributed to this article.