By Robert Auth
If the Democrats don’t get their act together, Atlantic City will become the first municipality in New Jersey since the Great Depression to miss a debt payment or go bankrupt. And troubles in Atlantic City reflect many problems municipalities face statewide.
It’s not just that we haven’t been able to pass a compromise takeover bill. Democratic lawmakers’ failure to address broader reforms has allowed the city to circle the drain for some time and soon enough to go down it.
As of 2015, Atlantic City was on the hook for more than $30 million of unused sick and vacation time for retiring city workers. While these large payments that Gov. Chris Christie calls “boat check payments” (because they are large enough to buy a boat upon retirement), are not the city’s largest expense, the pension practice has dogged municipalities throughout the state for years.
Many towns, like Atlantic City, continue to borrow millions just to make these payments. Atlantic City’s pension problem is even worse than the State’s. The city does less than underfund, it doesn’t fund local pensions at all. The city has become too big for its britches and needs to scale back its benefits to those of similarly-sized municipalities.
It’s high time for statewide pension reform, but the Legislature has taken no action. The problem could be alleviated by matching public benefits and pensions with those in the private sector. There is no reason taxpayers should be fleeced to provide platinum benefits that they themselves cannot afford.
Atlantic City should also no longer hold back on shared services with the county and privatization that could save taxpayers money. A November 2015 report concluded the city would save about $863,000 per year by contracting with the county utilities authority.
Shared services should be a completely bipartisan approach to lowering property taxes and reducing local expenses. Despite it being touted by Senate President Sweeney, like the compromise Atlantic City bill, Democrats have blocked any action.
Every day that goes by without the Legislature addressing these reforms is making it more difficult for municipalities and taxpayers.
Let’s get to work.