New Jersey lawmakers pushing for a state takeover of Atlantic City's government now say they will give the cash-strapped resort town until the end of summer to enact substantial budget cuts before intervening.
If the city doesn't adopt a "legally binding" plan to sustainably reduce per capita spending by nearly half within 130 days, state government would intervene, lawmakers said.
They also said in a statement that if Atlantic City accepted this proposal, they would petition Gov. Christie for a loan "that is fully secured to protect New Jersey taxpayers" and that would allow the city "to maintain its operational budget while the municipal government makes the necessary cuts to remain solvent."
Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), Sen. Paul Sarlo (D., Bergen), and Assembly Majority Leader Louis D. Greenwald (D., Camden) said they would amend the takeover legislation to incorporate these changes.
A spokesman for Christie, a Republican who has supported the takeover push, said: "As usual, we don't comment on draft or pending legislation without having had time to review it."
Currently, the bill would give the state the authority to modify or terminate collective bargaining agreements, dissolve agencies, fire municipal employees, and restructure the city's debts, among other powers.
"This plan gives Atlantic City the opportunity to use all the tools at their disposal to finally reduce spending and reform government operations before the state asserts control over its municipal finances," Sweeney said in a statement.
The takeover legislation passed in the Senate last month but has stalled in the Assembly, where Speaker Vincent Prieto (D., Hudson) is advancing his own plan that would require the city to meet certain fiscal benchmarks over two years before the state could gain broad intervention powers.
Prieto said in a statement about Sweeney's plan that he was pleased "to see a step toward compromise, but Atlantic City must be treated fairly. . . . Tying an unrealistic noose around the city's neck would be unfair."
Mayor Don Guardian said that while he applauded "the beginnings of a compromise by the Senate president and others, I still believe the framework set forth within Assemblyman Prieto's bill continues to be the most pragmatic."
Under Sweeney's amended legislation, the city would be required to submit its plan to the state Department of Community Affairs, which would decide whether to approve it.
The state says the city of 40,000 people is running a $100 million deficit on a budget of roughly $250 million. The city's employees recently accepted a deferred-wage plan to keep it operating.
The city owes about $550 million in total debt, according to Christie's commissioner of community affairs.