Giving Away the Store

A costly, developing problem for New York City that's three decades old

The next time you hear about how the city budget shortchanges schools or scrimps on library hours or requires exorbitant fines for parking tickets or charges too high a sales tax, remember that term tax expenditure. According to the most recent report, the city collected nearly $11.6 billion in property taxes in the year that ended June 30. At the same time, it gave away tax expenditures—special tax breaks not routinely available to everyone—to the tune of $2.3 billion. That's in just one year.

Much of that is justified spending to stimulate low-income housing that would not have been built otherwise. But the figure also is swollen with unnecessary giveaways.

From the 1980s, we have the 34-year J-51 tax breaks that helped drive residents of the old Upper West Side rooming houses onto the streets. During the super-hot real estate boom of the late 1990s, the city granted hundreds of millions in tax breaks to subsidize land deals in Times Square that would have occurred anyway, once Disney broke the ice by developing there. And more recently, subsidies encouraged construction on Staten Island to the point that the borough's citizens are up in arms against "overdevelopment."

It's not a lie, as Bloomberg contends, to say that the stadium project will affect how much money is available to pay teachers, cops, and firefighters. The city would gradually pay back its loans for the stadium construction from the same expense budget it uses to pay employees. And furthermore, it would pass up hundreds of millions of dollars more in PILOT money that could be used for the same purpose.

That's why the West Side stadium deal would be the next big mistake.


Finer Print
By the numbers: get out your calculators, or go to these sites

So you like numbers? If so, you can add up the pluses and minuses of the West Side stadium by going through the fine print at these websites. For the Regional Plan Association report "Urban Development Alternatives for the Hudson Rail Yards," go to rpa.org/pdf/hudsonyardsalternatives.pdf. You'll find the Independent Budget Office's report, "The Long-Term Costs and Benefits of the New York Sports and Convention Center," atibo.nyc.ny.us. The same site will give you a link to "Budget Options for New York City," including a page on the cost of the Madison Square Garden tax break.

And if you are not bleary-eyed at that point, you can head for the Annual Report on Tax Expenditures at nyc.gov/html/dof/pdf/ 03pdf/taxpol_expenditures_04.pdf.

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