When New Jersey implemented its partial supervision of Atlantic City government, the title goals of the enabling legislation were stabilization and recovery. In the four years since, the city has gotten that and more — significant improvement in its condition and outlook.
Atlantic City was facing municipal bankruptcy in 2016. Any bonds it issued were low-rated junk, requiring the city to pay high interest to borrow. City government showed repeatedly that it wouldn’t have the discipline or ability to restore its broken finances — despite still having a large revenue stream from casinos.
New Jersey government that year took responsibility for the finances of the poorly managed municipal-state hybrid it created when it legalized casino gambling in the city nearly a half century before. Bankruptcy was averted and the first of several credit ratings upgrades by investment services soon followed.
Since 2016, the city budget has decreased 11.5% and local taxes most years have stayed flat or fallen a bit. The city’s number of employees has been reduced modestly, from 994 to 889. And for the first time in many years, Atlantic City will spend less than $200 million annually.
A stable and predictable city-state government partnership has made corporate investment possible again. Two large new casino hotel operations resulted, as well as numerous housing and business projects.
Now state and city officials are working on the legislation needed to continue the partnership past November. Mayor Marty Small Sr., formerly part of the uniform opposition to state oversight by city officials, now says “elements of the takeover have made it better for Atlantic City” and the extension is going to happen.
Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who leads the oversight as commissioner of the N.J. Department of Community Affairs, recently said Atlantic City government’s historic problem was “generation after generation of ineffective and inefficient municipal leadership.” And we would add what she apparently was too polite to say, the city was infamously corrupt too.
Oliver told a legislative committee that the state is creating a culture to guide the city not according to what favors friends and allies, “but on sound business decisions and tapping the best quality personnel we can.”
These are the right goals. New Jersey will bear responsibility for helping Atlantic City achieve and maintain them as long as it operates its multi-billion-dollar legal gambling industry in this small barrier island city.
We look forward to the renewal of the partnership and the continued reinvention of a destination resort run locally with state oversight and expertise.