ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey's Assembly speaker unveiled his own bill to aid Atlantic City Wednesday night, defying Gov. Chris Christie's vow not to sign it on a day that the governor rained caustic, intensely personal criticism on the resort's mayor, calling him a liar and questioning his intelligence.
Vincent Prieto will formally introduce a bill Thursday morning that combines elements of a Christie-endorsed two-bill Atlantic City aid package that Prieto has refused to put up for a vote, objecting to provisions that would let the state break public employee contracts.
Christie has said he will not sign anything other than the bills the state Senate already has passed.
"It's unfortunate that Gov. Christie has failed to use his existing authority to help Atlantic City, and the existing bill doesn't do enough to protect core values such as collective bargaining, fair labor practices and civil liberties," Prieto said Wednesday night. "This bill is a very fair compromise that accomplishes everyone's goals."
Prieto's bill draws from both the stalled bills: one that would let casinos make specified payments to the city in lieu of taxes, and another that would give the state sweeping authority over Atlantic City's finances. But his bill would give the city the chance to meet certain benchmarks before the state could seize more power.
It also would create a five-member panel of state and city officials to assess that progress. Prieto's bill will be discussed and voted on by an Assembly committee on Wednesday morning.
He acted hours after Christie came to Atlantic City, not to meet with its embattled mayor, but to denounce him as a liar who has "zero idea" what he's doing.
The governor used his harshest language yet to criticize Mayor Don Guardian, a fellow Republican, as the seaside gambling resort draws closer to going broke.
The city adopted a payroll maneuver Wednesday night that it hopes will temporarily avert the crisis, delaying the need to shut down non-essential services for about two months. But the city still has not found a way to cope with the contraction of its casino industry, which has lost more than half its revenue — and four of its 12 casinos — since 2006.
Christie used a press conference with Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson to take repeated shots at Guardian in the harshest and most personal language he has used against him to date, reminiscent of the invective he frequently hurled at Guardian's Democratic predecessor, Lorenzo Langford.
Asked about complaints by Guardian that he has not met with the governor in months as his city inches closer to bankruptcy, Christie replied, "Because there's no purpose in meeting with a liar."
Christie accused Guardian of agreeing to a state takeover in a Statehouse news conference with leaders of the state Senate and Assembly, then changing his mind. Guardian said lawmakers promised to make changes to protect the city's interest but failed to make good on them.
"He has no idea what he's talking about," Christie said. "Zero idea what he's talking about."
Christie also seemed to insult Guardian's intelligence as well as his competency.
"The mayor's math and his understanding match his management ability," Christie said.
At his news conference afterward, Guardian disputed many of Christie's criticisms and laid much of the blame for his city's fiscal crisis on the doorstep of the state, which has appointed monitors to oversee the city and school system.
"I'm sorry that he has to use name-calling," Guardian said. "I'm disappointed, and I can say, like every urban mayor in the state of New Jersey, that we can't wait until Jan. 14, 2018, when we have a new governor."
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