Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Governor Christie Finds Something Else To Take Over

The Governor has announced a plan to bring the Atlantic City boardwalk, including the casinos and entertainment facilities, under State control. Seeing as how the recently ended State takeover of Camden is generally viewed as a failure, one has to wonder why the Governor thinks this is a good idea.

There is the report of the Governor's Advisory Commission on New Jersey Gaming, Sports and Entertainment, which is the apparent impetus for the State takeover. But while that report recommended State oversight of Atlantic City, it did not recommend an outright takeover. The stated rationale for the takeover is that Atlantic City's local government is too inefficient and corrupt to effect change.

What is clear is that there is a definite trend of consolidating power in Trenton. All of the State's investigative power, with the exception of the State Commission of Investigation, is now in the executive branch. The State Commission was almost merged into the executive branch as well. It's entirely likely that before long control of county prosecutors will rest in the executive branch, under the auspices of the Attorney General. And now control of one of the State's premiere tourist attractions lies in Trenton. All of which has me turning into a bone fide conspiracy theorist.

Here's my latest totally unfounded conspiracy theory. Many people have wondered why Steve Sweeney and Chris Christie have formed such a tight bond. Perhaps a deal was made -- Sweeney's support for a 2% cap in exchange for an agreement to restrict all gaming to Atlantic City and to deny the State's racetracks the ability to operate slot machines, as they do in neighboring states. And now maybe the Governor has taken control of Atlantic City as a means to keep the state's most powerful Democrat in check.

And if there was a deal, how would taxpayers ever find out about it? In years past, perhaps the Inspector General would have investigated the Governor's actions. But now the Inspector General works for the Governor. Certainly the State Commission of Investigation could investigate. But seeing as how it just escaped the budget knife, would the SCI actively investigate the Governor now?

Perhaps the New Jersey Racing Commission or the Division of Gaming Enforcement would investigate. But those entities are within the Office of the Attorney General, who is about to have her power increased by gaining control over all the county prosecutors. Surely the Attorney General is not going to attack the Governor at this time.

If nothing else, this plan for the takeover of the Atlantic City casinos is a terrific illustration of the danger of allowing a Governor to concentrate State power to the extent this Governor has. It means the end of transparency and accountability in government.

So I admit it, my conspiracy theory is unfounded. But the impact of the consolidation of power in Trenton is real.

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