Last year, Liberty and Prosperity and three Atlantic County homeowners filed a lawsuit against Atlantic City and state officials over unsustainable spending and debt, and an unconstitutional ten year tax break for Atlantic City casinos. The case is now at a critical stage, and I am asking for your help.
Atlantic City’s Financial Crisis
For more than eight years, local and state officials blatantly defied basic state laws designed to protect taxpayers.
The local budget law requires every county and local government to adopt a “cash basis” (balanced) budget each year. Until about 20 years ago, local officials who didn’t approve balanced budgets on time, or who spent money or incurred debts without budgets were prosecuted, jailed, or removed from office.
New Jersey’s local bond law strictly limits the ability of county and local governments to borrow money or take on obligations that are not paid in full within the budget year. Money can only be borrowed to buy or improve things like buildings, roads, and equipment. Local governments cannot borrow to pay current operating expenses. Atlantic City blatantly ignored both laws.
In 2007, Atlantic City had 13 casinos and some $21 billion of taxable real estate. By 2010, competition and the national financial crisis cut that down to around $8 billion.
If Atlantic City followed the local budget and bond laws, it would have cut spending to match the loss of two thirds of its tax base.
However, under Democratic Mayor Lorenzo Langford, both Atlantic City and its public schools increased salaries, benefits, and spending as if nothing had happened.
In 2010, Atlantic City failed to adopt a budget, and spent roughly $80 million more than it took in. In October of 2010, Governor Christie’s state officials took legal action.
Judge Valerie Armstrong ruled that Atlantic City was “in gross violation of the Local Budget Law”. A state “monitor” took control of Atlantic City’s finances.
What happened next was astonishing. The state, and Atlantic City’s new Republican Mayor Don Guardian, ruled out layoffs, made only superficial spending cuts, and continued to spend roughly $80 million more each year than the City took in–all in blatant violation of the local budget law.
Here are two of several tricks they used. For years, the City assessed properties at grossly inflated 2006 values, and collected far more in taxes than it was entitled to. Everyone knew these assessments were fake, and that the city would have to have to return most of that money when property owners appealed their taxes.
Another gimmick was refusing to pay for employee pensions and health benefits, knowing state officials would do nothing about it.
Liberty and Prosperity Files Lawsuit
The local budget law requires local governments to adopt balanced budgets by March of each year. Liberty and Prosperity filed suit against the City and State in April of 2016 when Atlantic City refused to adopt a balanced budget for the seventh year in a row. The case was delayed until September, which allowed the City to spend another $80 million more than it took in violation of the local budget law.
The owners of Atlantic City’s eight casinos were also concerned with Atlantic City’s endless deficits and unsustainable debt. However, instead of supporting our lawsuit, the casinos lobbied for special new laws to avoid paying their share.
In 2016, the casinos hired Optimus Partners as their lobbyists. One partner was Republican Jeffrey Michaels, a close friend and ally of Republican Governor Chris Christie. Jeffrey Michaels is also the brother of Port Authority Police Lieutenant “Chip” Michaels who chauffeured Authority Chairman David Wildstein to inspect the traffic jam Wildstein created at the George Washington Bridge. The other partner was Democrat Philip Norcross, brother of South Jersey Democratic powerbroker George Norcross.
During May of 2016, Republican Governor Chris Christie, and Democrats and Republicans in the State Legislature enacted a “Casino PILOT Law” that gives Atlantic City’s eight “casino gaming properties” a ten year tax break at the expense of every other property owner in Atlantic County. The legislation was introduced by Democratic Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo from Atlantic County, who at one point admitted his bill was written by the casino lobbyists.
Right now eight “casino gaming properties” pay more than half of Atlantic City’s property taxes and about ten percent of Atlantic County taxes. Under the new Casino PILOT Law, these casinos will pay “Payment (Peanuts?) In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) for the next ten years. Everybody else in Atlantic County will have to pay the casino share of all future tax hikes as well as their own–including tax hikes caused by falling property values!
Liberty and Prosperity, Atlantic City and 6 Towns Filed Suit to Block the Casino Tax Break.
In 1837, massive corruption and unsustainable debt caused a seven year economic collapse in America known as “The Panic of 1837”.
For details on how Panic of 1837 led to new NJ State Constitution, visit RepudiateNJ.com
To fix that problem, New Jersey adopted a new State Constitution with two key provisions. First, State Government could no longer borrow money unless voters approved. Second, state and local governments had to assess and tax all property equally. Those two provisions are still part of our New Jersey State Constitution today.
We believe that the Casino PILOT Law violates that “tax uniformity” clause of our State Constitution. We immediately asked the court to stop it. Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, the County Freeholders, and the towns of Absecon, Egg Harbor Township, Hamilton Township, Somers Point, Ventnor, and Weymouth also filed suit. The case is now at a critical stage. Papers will be submitted to Judge Mendez this Friday, and he will make a decision next month.
3 Ways You Can Help.
- If you own a hotel, motel, shop, restaurant, or bar in Atlantic City, please submit a certification to the court. The lawyers for Atlantic County and the six towns are doing an excellent job of presenting our legal arguments. However we need your help to do more. We need real home and business owners like you to explain why you need “tax stabilization” just as much as the eight Atlantic City casinos.
If Atlantic City casinos claim they can’t afford to pay future tax hikes, how can the rest of us afford their share and our own?
If you own a hotel, motel, shop, restaurant, or bar in Atlantic City, please contact my law office at (609) 927-7333 or email@example.com. I would like you to complete and submit a simple form to explain that your business is no different from identical businesses located within casino hotels. We need you to tell the court that your business should not be taxed at a higher rate that identical businesses inside “casino gaming properties”.
- Please make a tax-deductible donation to Liberty and Prosperity. Although I am volunteering my time for this lawsuit, Liberty and Prosperity needs help with out-of-pocket expenses such as copying, postage, and filing fees. Even more important, Liberty and Prosperity needs help to explain our lawsuit to people around New Jersey to get public and political support.
We need everyone in New Jersey to know that if this “Casino PILOT Law” stands, our New Jersey State Constitution will be useless and unable to stop politicians from giving tax breaks to their friends in every county–at the expense of everyone else. Please send your check payable to Liberty and Prosperity at 453 Shore Road, Somers Point, New Jersey or donate online through our PayPal button at LibertyAndProsperity.org.
- Please forward and share this email as much as you can. Please copy and paste links to this message on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever other blogs you visit. Again, winning public and political support is just as important in defending our Constitution as winning in court.
Seth Grossman, Executive Director
Liberty and Prosperity 1776, Inc.