Atlantic City's mayor has called a state plan to cede control of the fiscally distressed gambling hub a "fascist dictatorship," a sharp reversal of his previous position on the proposed takeover.
Details of the proposed legislation, released last week, would deny residents their civil rights by stripping municipal powers from locally elected officials, Mayor Don Guardian said on Monday, echoing previous concerns from community activists.
"The final piece of legislation that the state presented to us was far from a partnership," Guardian said, addressing hundreds of residents and city workers at an outdoor news conference next to City Hall. "It was much worse. It was absolutely a fascist dictatorship."
The plan calls for the state to appoint an official who would have the power to make unilateral decisions about canceling collective bargaining agreements, selling city-owned assets, entering contracts, terminating employees and vetoing city council minutes, Guardian said.
The mayor's comments marked a fiery change of tone from just one month ago, when Guardian stood next to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and state Senate President Steve Sweeney in support of the intervention. However, that was before the bills had taken shape.
City officials previously threatened to file for a municipal bankruptcy. But such a move would likely not be approved by the state, which already oversees the city's budget.
Nevertheless, officials raised the subject again on Monday, saying they might petition the state for a bankruptcy declaration if they cannot negotiate a settlement with the Borgata Casino Hotel & Spa.
Atlantic City owes the Borgata, its most profitable casino, at least $160 million of property tax appeals. The city missed a recent deadline to pay a $62.5 million portion of that, prompting the Borgata to skip its $7.5 million tax payment for the first quarter of 2016.
The parties are in 45-day court-ordered negotiations, Guardian said, but if there is no settlement the city could try to seek out bankruptcy.
Atlantic City is on track to run out of money within two months. The latest legislative package would also include a less divisive bill that allows casinos to make fixed payments in lieu of taxes.
That bill is aimed at stabilizing the city's property tax base, which has shrunk dramatically because of gambling competition from neighboring states. Four of the city's 12 casinos that shut in 2014 remain closed.
(Writing by Hilary Russ in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)