NJ lawmaker rejects state aid for casino bid
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The odds against yet another endangered Atlantic City casino surviving grew longer Friday when New Jersey's senate president said the state will not contribute anything to billionaire Carl Icahn's bid to acquire the Trump Taj Mahal casino and keep it open.
The billionaire investor says he'll kick in $100 million to keep the casino open, but only with union givebacks and massive tax credits from Atlantic City and the state.
At a news conference on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, Steve Sweeney said the state will not contribute the $25 million in tax breaks Icahn and Trump Entertainment Resorts want for the Taj Mahal.
"You get nothing from us until you treat workers with respect and dignity," said Sweeney, who is president of an ironworkers' union.
Atlantic City has already said it cannot afford the concessions and will not grant them. Sweeney's refusal to have the state consider tax credits was yet another blow to the plan.
Trump Entertainment crafted a proposal to keep the casino open that involves Local 54 of the Unite-HERE casino workers' union giving up their pension and health care coverage. It also requires Atlantic City to cut the tax assessment of its property by about 80 percent, and for a state redevelopment agency to grant $25 million in tax breaks.
If all those things don't happen, the company says it will shut the Taj Mahal on Nov. 13, making it the fifth Atlantic City casino to go out of business this year.
"If they give him what he's asking for, he's going to close it in a year anyway," Sweeney said.
Icahn said he's "confused and bothered" by union and political opposition, saying he had nothing to do with the Taj Mahal aside from owning its debt. He also owns the Tropicana Casino and Resort, having bought it out of bankruptcy court in 2010.
"Frankly, I saved Tropicana," Icahn said. "This is my record in Atlantic City and I am proud of it. I have spent a great deal of money saving and keeping thousands of people employed at Tropicana. I cannot understand why these gentlemen did not even give me the courtesy of a phone call before attacking me. "
He rejected claims from Sweeney and other elected officials that he caused the closure of Trump Plaza on Sept. 16 by rejecting offers for it as the company's main lender.
"I've been focused on strengthening the Tropicana — basically minding my own business — and now I'm being blamed for the Plaza closing, wanting to take away health care and demanding drastic concessions from Local 54," he said. "Many of the claims that are being waged against me have nothing to do with reality and therefore they bother me."
He also says he is not anti-union, adding he wants additional information from the union about the cost of its health care plan before sinking another $45 million in new investment into the Tropicana.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC