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Atlantic County Democrats are fuming over the Murphy administration’s decision to appoint Republican County Executive Dennis Levinson to a task force on county taxes.
The announcement, made by Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver on Tuesday, comes during Levinson’s campaign for re-election to a sixth term in the November general election. He faces Northfield Councilwoman Susan Korngut.
Control of the Board of Freeholders is also up for grabs this fall, as are two Democratic assemblymen in the politically competitive, Atlantic County-based 2nd district.
“While I have the utmost respect for the Lieutenant Governor and think she’s done a fine job in helping Atlantic City, appointing the County Executive to a task force on Atlantic City’s taxes is like having the fox guard the hen house,” said Michael Suleiman, the Atlantic County Democratic chairman.
Suleiman maintains that Levinson is trying to play both sides of the county tax issue.
“He can’t talk about how great Atlantic County government is yet bemoan others for the fact that county taxes skyrocketed in Atlantic City,” the Democratic leader said. “He keeps bashing the three-year-old Atlantic City stabilization law for the county’s financial troubles when in fact the casinos will be paying more to the county due to an increase in gross gaming revenue.”
The Murphy administration’s move to forge an alliance with Levinson follows a bid by Republicans to blame Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-Northfield) for recent increases in local property taxes.
Mazzeo sponsored payment in lieu of taxes legislation and Levinson was critical of Gov. Phil Murphy’s role in a recent local tax spike earlier this month.
“They saw this day coming. They are smart, but they didn’t do anything about it,” Levinson told the Press of Atlantic City. “The state has to share responsibility here.”
According to Suleiman, Levinson has bragged about securing 13.5% PILOT programs.
“Why does he continue to flip-flop on this issue?” Suliman asked.
The Press of Atlantic City first reported Levinson’s appointment.
Murphy has been feuding with South Jersey Democrats since taking office nineteen months ago.
Sulieman is one of the county chairmen to endorse LeRoy Jones for Democratic State Chairman against Murphy’s candidate, incumbent John Currie.