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New Jersey Considers Taking Over Atlantic City

Years Of Economic Decline Leave One Third Of Atlantic City's Resident In PovertyYears Of Economic Decline Leave One Third Of Atlantic City's Resident In Poverty
A child looks for shells on the beach in front of the closed Trump Plaza hotel on August 28, 2015 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Photograph by John Moore—Getty Images

It’s a battle of wills between Atlantic City and New Jersey.

This week, the New Jersey legislature is considering a proposal to take over Atlantic City, which is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, Bloomberg reports. But Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian says that the state needs to back off, and compared the sudden proposal to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The city is staring down a shortfall of $90 million next year—one-third of its budget—as its main industry, gambling, saw a revenue drop by one-half since its peak in 2006.

The takeover proposal, introduced by state Senate president Stephen Sweeney, would enhance the state’s presence in the city even more: already, Atlantic City is overseen by an emergency manager and state monitor. The new proposal would give the state control of its municipal authorities and assets, such a the Atlantic City Municipal Utilities Authority that provides the area’s drinking water.

But Guardian says that the state needs to give Atlantic City time to sort out its own mess. “If they are allowed to do this in Atlantic City, they will be allowed to do it anywhere,” Guardian said during a press conference on Wednesday. “It’s a terrible precedent. The people of New Jersey elect the state legislature to run the state, not take over its cities.”

Guardian said that the takeover proposal, which Sweeney introduced without much warning, was unexpected. “Certainly, no one was lost or killed,” Guardian told NJ Advance Media, when he compared the proposal to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. “But certainly, it was that kind of a surprise to me.”

State lawmakers are also considering a proposal introduced this week to ask voters to approve the opening of two more casinos in North Jersey. In exchange for opening those casinos, as much as one-half of the tax revenue would be funneled back to Atlantic City, according to NJ.com. That proposal has already been panned by Moody’s, which said that opening even more casinos—and thus, competition—would be “bad news” for Atlantic City.