STATE—The “New Jersey Economic Stimulus Act of 2009” encourages funding private business developments with public money, putting taxpayers at risk while allowing wealthy investors to profit.
Now a sponsor of that legislation, state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), wants taxpayers to spend more than $300 million to help the Wall Street giant Morgan-Stanley finish construction of the Revel Casino in Atlantic City.
Lesniak and other supporters of the project say Revel will create jobs and help revitalize Atlantic City, but one of its biggest opponents is the head of the largest casino employees union in the city.
Bob McDevitt, president of Unite Here Local 54, argues that the new entity would just draw revenue away from Atlantic City’s existing casino hotels, forcing at least two of them to close their doors. He asked, “Why should the public finance something that is going to put two casinos out of business?”
“It is no secret that Morgan Stanley has refused to provide the casino project any more money,” said McDevitt. “Morgan Stanley received $10 billion in TARP money and paid out $14.4 billion in salary and bonuses last year.”
“If Morgan Stanley isn’t going to finance the project, why should the taxpayers of New Jersey?” said McDevitt. “Every dime that the state gives Morgan Stanley’s casino project is money we don’t have for property tax relief, to help our municipalities, for education, and for so many other worthwhile causes.”
Steve Lonegan, president of Americans for Prosperity, also opposes using taxpayer money to help the beleaguered casino.
“Under no circumstance should New Jersey’s over burdened taxpayers be taxed even more to bail out another big bank debacle. If the state has money for this bail out, the state should be cutting taxes for all businesses, not just Morgan Stanley’s casino project, Revel,” Lonegan said.
For good measure, Lesniak’s bill slams the door on citizens who are circulating petitions to put the matter to a public vote.
When Lesniak’s legislation was met with resistance at a committee meeting earlier this year, he cut off debate and on Feb. 22, he rammed the legislation through the full Senate under an emergency resolution.
“The same people that brought us an $8 billion deficit in New Jersey have voted and decided it’s not the right of the voters to decide,” McDevitt said.
“Lesniak’s bill also contains a provision that allows municipalities like Elizabeth and Newark to adopt an ordinance establishing a new local motor vehicle rental tax, which cannot be appealed to the voters by an initiative or referendum,” said James J. Devine, a Democratic political strategist. “In other words, Lesniak is stopping voters from interfering when their governments give away taxpayer money or adopt new taxes.”
The value of the investment was also questioned by Star Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine, who noted in an article last month, “More than three decades into the casino era, A.C. remains a dump.”
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