Unions representing Atlantic City's municipal workers were voting Wednesday on a delayed wage payment plan that would allow City Hall to avert an April 8 shutdown, said Chris Filiciello, chief of staff to Mayor Don Guardian.
Filiciello described the plan, which would allow the city to pay workers every 28 days beginning April 8, as "only a temporary fix." The plan, if approved by the city's four unions, and then by City Council, would delay paychecks until May 6, several days after the city gets an infusion of cash from second-quarter real estate taxes.
The city previously announced it would run out of money April 8 and would have to shut City Hall for three weeks. Essential workers would continue to work without pay during a shutdown, but the city had said they would be reimbursed after the city collects its second-quarter taxes.
With negotiations for a rescue package and a controversial takeover proposal consuming Trenton legislators and the governor's office, Filiciello said the union vote would allow more time for a solution to be reached. Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D., Hudson) has said he will not allow a vote on a takeover bill that allows the state to rip up collective-bargaining agreements.
Christie, on New Jersey 101.5's Ask the Governor program Wednesday night, continued to push Prieto and Guardian to support the takeover bill.
"The reason they're going to run out of money is because they spend like drunken sailors," the governor said of Atlantic City.
Christie said he was "not going to" allow Atlantic City to declare bankruptcy. "There's one option. It's a bipartisan, negotiated option between myself and the Senate Democrats," Christie said, accusing Prieto of taking advantage of a "weak mayor" while "playing public-sector union politics."
"The mayor and the speaker are the cocaptains of the Titanic, and we're there trying to save people," Christie said.
In a statement Wednesday night, Prieto said Christie was "absurdly delusional."
"Based on his record in New Jersey, Gov. Christie is the one who knows how to sink a ship," Prieto said. "His refusal to use his existing power to save Atlantic City is more of the same." Christie said that if he had the authority he needed, he wouldn't be pushing takeover legislation
The rescue package creates a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) system for casinos and redirects more than $60 million in casino money to Atlantic City's budget and debt payments. The PILOT system was designed to prevent damaging tax appeals from casinos, which have brought the city to the fiscal breaking point, but an amendment added by the state Senate allows the casinos to opt out of the system if casino gaming is expanded to North Jersey.
"The mayor is trying to find a way to buy more time for negotiations on the state level while still providing the much needed services to the residents of Atlantic City," Filiciello said in an email. "After May 6, however, it's still unclear how long the city can remain open without the promised $33.5 million from the state, the PILOT bill," and other promised state aid.
Atlantic City owes Borgata Hotel and Casino more than $150 million in back taxes from successful appeals, though the two sides are in court-ordered mediation to try to come to a settlement. The city also has $240 million in debt payments but said it would make an April 1 debt payment.
City worker unions include a police union, a firefighters union, a white-collar union, and a blue-collar union. There are about 900 workers, down more than 300 since Guardian took office. "All the different unions are voting on this," Filiciello said.