Atlantic City needs liberty. Not a state government "Green Zone"-- or bailout of a failed casino project.
Last week, Republican Governor Chris Christie and Democrat Senate President and Iron Workers Union boss Steve Sweeny finalized a new state law to carve a Green Zone out of Atlantic City. It will be run by bureaucrats appointed by state politicians.
They also did a state government bailout of the failed Revel Casino project. Roughly $261 million of future tax collections over the next 20 years will be given to private corporations as collateral for a giant sub-prime loan package to borrow even more money. Hardly anyone knows the details of this convoluted scheme. It was first announced Friday afternoon by the NJ Economic Development Authority, and finally approved the next Tuesday morning.
Local Democrat Senators Jeff Van Drew and Jim Whelan and Republican Assemblymen Vince Polistina and John Amodeo support both deals. So does our daily newspaper, and almost every local radio talk show host besides me.
I grew up in Atlantic City hearing dozens of old-timers, including many African Americans, talk with pride at how prosperous and enterprising Atlantic City was in the 1920s when Nucky Johnson was the political boss. Many of those stories are re-told today by local radio personality Pinky Kravitz, and Boardwalk Empire author Nelson Johnson.
The irony is that although Nucky Johnson had lots of political power, liberty– not government was the key to Atlantic Citys success.
For 50 years before Nucky Johnson, Atlantic City grew from an empty sandbar in 1850 to a bustling resort of 27,000 full time residents by 1900.
Atlantic City then was a wide open town where anyone with money was free to buy, build, and invest in any business to feed, entertain, or amuse the millions of tourists who came by train to visit our beach and Boardwalk. Anyone without money, including newly freed African-American slaves from the south, could find all the work needed, serve meals or rent out rooms, to earn enough money in a few short years.
But in the early 1900s, that liberty and prosperity was threatened by Democrats and Progressives like Princeton professor, NJ Governor, and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.
Wilson was a racist who resented the rapid economic and political gains made by blacks in Republican strongholds like Atlantic City.
Wilson and most Progressives also rammed through laws that made liquor, drugs, gambling, prostitution, and doing business on Sundays illegal for the first time.
Republican Sheriff Nucky Johnson became a political boss to keep those Progressives from killing Atlantic City with their anti-liberty laws and their racism. Most of the ice money (pay-offs) he collected from everyone who sold liquor, ran gambling joints or bawdy houses, etc., was used to pay off judges, cops, and juries to ignore those laws , so that blacks and whites could equally do business and pursue happiness.
Ironically, the ice money that made Nucky Johnson rich in the 1920s was peanuts compared to what Atlantic City hotels, bars, and casinos now pay government for income tax, sales tax, property tax, hotel tax, luxury tax, corporate and business tax, Casino Reinvestment tax, parking garage tax, and Special Improvement District tax, airport and Expressway tolls and fees, etc.
Back then, there was no pay to play to get special tax abatements. Property taxes were very low for everybody. There was no sales tax in New Jersey until 1966no income tax until 1976.
Back then, there was no pay to play to get permits or zoning variances to build new hotels or casinos. There were no zoning laws at all until 1929. You could build almost anything in tourist zones until 1978.
Back then, builders were free to hire the best workers they could find. Because many black carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers, and electricians were highly skilled, and willing to work harder for less money, they quickly found work. Many soon started their own businesses. Casino and hotel builders today can only hire expensive workers selected by union business agents.
In the summer of 1903, Henry Leeds, filed plans with the city to replace his old wooden hotel at North Carolina Avenue and the Boardwalk. He closed the hotel and began demolition after that Labor Day. Without modern equipment, he began construction of a new 10 story brick and steel skyscraper in December. The new Chalfonte Hotel was finished and opened seven months later on July 2, 1904.
Instead of creating a Green Zone and bailing out one failed casino project, why not give everyone in Atlantic City low taxes and liberty to do things like that again?