Calling it "the Legislature at its worst," Gov. Christie vetoed a bill Monday that would have stripped billionaire Carl Icahn of his casino license for five years after he closed the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.
The bill, originally conceived as a way to pressure Icahn to keep the casino open and settle a protracted labor dispute, was adopted by the Legislature only after Icahn made the decision to close the casino, once owned by President Trump.
Icahn said the bill led him to ditch plans for a $100 million upgrade and decide instead to sell the India-themed property.
The bill would have stripped the casino owner of his license for five years unless he reopened after settling with Local 54 of Unite Here.
The bill's time frame was narrowly conceived to apply only to Icahn and the Taj and not to any of the previous four shuttered casinos (one of which, the Trump Plaza, is also owned by Icahn).
Icahn, on Twitter, called the veto "spot on," but said the damage had been done. He blamed State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester).
"After his irresponsible actions, we determined that we would not invest the $100 million to $200 million of capital we believed the Taj Mahal needed and that we would instead sell the Taj Mahal at a loss (if possible)," Icahn wrote in a letter posted on his website.
"I believe other large investors will similarly have no interest in investing significant amounts in Atlantic City or New Jersey as long as Sweeney is in control of the Senate."
Icahn did not indicate if the veto would alter his plans for the property.
Subsequent to the passage of the bill, Icahn filed to surrender his casino license and also filed for a deed restriction to keep the property from ever opening as a casino again, actions that Christie said would have a detrimental effect on Atlantic City's economy and municipal finances.
Icahn declared at the time that the Legislature was "at war with business." His actions tamped down talk that he intended to reopen the Taj or sell it to another casino operator.
Sweeney, for his part, said Christie's veto benefited only Icahn, "who is a good friend of the casino's namesake, Donald Trump."
"We don't want to have the policies and practices of President Trump and Carl Icahn used to strip away fair wages and benefits for working people in Atlantic City or anywhere else in New Jersey," Sweeney said in a statement.
"This veto is flat-out wrong."
Sweeney said the veto "will allow Icahn to exploit and manipulate bankruptcy laws and casino licensing regulations in ways that would enrich himself at the expense of regular casino workers and the families who depend on them."
Christie, in a letter accompanying his veto, agreed with Icahn's assessment, saying the Legislature was "blatantly kowtowing to their union patrons" and characterizing the closure of the Taj as a "business decision ... after its union employees went on strike and refused to negotiate in good faith."
Christie said the bill "sends a chilling signal to businesses in New Jersey, and those thinking of relocating here, that they must 'play ball' with the unions or face retaliation by the Legislature."
"Such a result is contrary to this administration's efforts to further economic growth and development in the state and is therefore unacceptable," he said.
Christie's letter pointed out that the deed restriction Icahn placed on the property "effectively removed the casino from the [payment in lieu of taxes] program implemented by" the Legislature's own rescue and tax stabilization law for Atlantic City.
"As a result, Atlantic City may receive significantly less revenue than contemplated by that law," Christie said in the letter.
Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli (D., Gloucester), a sponsor of the bill, defended it as a way to prevent casino license holders from "toying and harming" workers, and "manipulating the licensing system and abusing rank and file casino workers."