TRENTON - The roller-coaster ride that was Carl Icahn on Thursday extended to the halls of the Statehouse.
It was a long afternoon in which the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City and the package of bills to help save it and the resort city were on many minds.
But by 1 p.m., word filtered down that votes on the bills were being delayed.
The reason: A deal between Icahn and Unite Here Local 54, the casino workers' union, had broken down at the last minute.
A clearly irate Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) had banked on pushing through his five-bill package on Thursday for the financially ailing city. Vince Mazzeo (D., Atlantic) was the Assembly sponsor.
"This is not the first time that there was a proposed agreement, and then for him to lastly pull the carpet out from underneath," Sweeney said, referring to the billionaire, who has been trying to gain ownership of the Taj. "So I'm very sad for the workers down there right now."
The situation with the Taj, which employs about 3,000, and the closures of four other Atlantic City casinos have created tension between the parties, and the city's future will likely be a factor in next year's legislative races.
Sweeney, who is vice president of the International Association of Ironworkers, has staked out his position.
"I'm tired of the politics being played by guys like Chris Brown that don't really care about anything but trying to get their name in the newspaper," Sweeney said. "The governor, myself, the Assembly leadership, the [Atlantic City] mayor - we're focused on trying to fix a problem, while other people are just playing politics, and it's disheartening."
Sweeney was referring to an Atlantic County Republican Assemblyman who on Wednesday unveiled his own recovery plan to rival Sweeney's. He described the Senate president's proposed payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) program - one of the bills - as a form of "corporate welfare" for Atlantic City casinos.
Sweeney's proposed PILOT plan would exempt all eight remaining casinos - including the Taj - from property taxes for 15 years. The casinos would collectively pay $150 million a year for the first two years, then $120 million a year for the next 13, assuming that gambling revenue stayed within certain ranges.
Sweeney's plan would also eliminate the Atlantic City Alliance - the city's marketing arm - and use its $30 million annual budget to help offset the city's debt.
On Thursday, Brown further became a thorn for the Democrats when he spoke out against the Sweeney/Mazzeo package and encouraged his GOP cohorts to vote down the bills.
"This is a move in the right direction," Brown said when he learned the Democrats' bills were stalled. "We're in the middle of a summit where all the stakeholders are coming together to find the best approach to stabilize Atlantic City."
Gov. Christie will hold the third day of a summit in Atlantic City next month.
Brown was particularly critical of the PILOT program. His plan would freeze the city's property taxes for five years at 2014 levels, including those of the casinos.
"Whenever you are allowing one group of businesses to pay less than their fair share, and then pushing their portion of the bill onto all of the middle class, hardworking families, that is unfair," he said. "That is a form of corporate welfare."
The PILOT program is at the heart of Atlantic City's recovery plan. The formula for calculating the payments for each casino is based on their annual gambling revenue, how much property they own, and how many hotel rooms they operate.
State Sen. James Whelan (D., Atlantic) said the PILOT plan was based on the Taj Mahal's staying a viable casino and part of the funding formula.
"We are very disappointed," he said. "This is a pause."
Sweeney said he was hopeful that his Atlantic City bills would reemerge for a vote Jan. 12 - the next scheduled voting date.