Whelan Bill Advances To Provide State Oversight Of Bader Field Plans

TRENTON – A key Senate committee unanimously advanced a bill, S-1339, sponsored by Senator Jim Whelan, to require prior approval by the State Local Finance Board of large municipal property sales or leases of valuable tracts like Bader Field in Atlantic City which could generate close to a billion dollars for the casino resort.

“This bill would provide state oversight for a transaction that will have a substantial impact on local taxpayers and of critical quality of life issues affecting Atlantic City for generations,” said Senator Whelan, the former mayor of Atlantic City.

Under Senator Whelan’s bill, a proposed property sale or lease of at least $50 million which exceeds a municipality’s total annual budget for the previous year would need prior sanction by the State Local Finance Board.

The Whelan bill would affect all municipalities, but he readily agreed the controversial situation involving Atlantic City’s attempts to sell the shut-down airport prompted him to draft the oversight measure.

“The people of Atlantic City deserve the best possible redevelopment outcome,” Senator Whelan said. “State oversight can only help them get to that goal.”

The 140-acre site on prime, bay-front property was the focus of a public corruption case involving public officials in Atlantic City which led to the conviction of three city councilmen for taking bribes.

The Atlantic City government is currently mulling an offer from Penn National Gaming to purchase Bader Field for $800 million and to provide a $50 million upfront payment to the city for local tax relief. The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, meanwhile, is promoting a competitive bidding process.

“The Local Finance Board has the expertise in place to assist Atlantic City and to ensure taxpayers they are getting the best possible deal,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic.

By being retroactive to March 1 of this year, the Whelan bill would apply to any proposal which has been considered, including the one from Penn National Gaming, the Senator said.