If They Build It, You'll Pay

Whether a stadium is built, the Olympics may get off at another stop

Of course, the mood could change in a hurry if New York wins the 2012 Olympics, but that's increasingly looking like a slim reed on which to hang any stadium hopes. The Olympics-watch site gamesbids.com has New York running a distant fourth (behind Paris, Madrid, and London) and falling fast, in large part because of the ongoing stadium uncertainty.

Lurking in the background, meanwhile, is yet another obstacle that's gotten little attention, but could hold the biggest long-term impact for city residents. To pay for the city's $300 million share of stadium construction costs, Doctoroff has proposed raiding the pool of "payments in lieu of property taxes," or PILOTs, that developers pay to the city Industrial Development Agency. Currently, the IDA just cashes the checks and then passes the proceeds through to the city treasury. If Doctoroff gets his way, the mayor would siphon them off before they ever reached the city's own accounts—effectively creating an enormous off-budget slush fund for future mayors to do with as they see fit, without the meddling checks and balances of a City Council vote.

Mayors spending money without getting City Council approval would seem to be a big no-no, but incredibly, no one in or around city government seems to know for sure if the Doctoroff gambit would be illegal. The slush fund revelations have sent pol watchers poring through the General Municipal Law and city charter in search of answers, without much success. After vowing to take "every legislative and other remedy available" to stop the mayor's end run, Council Speaker Giff Miller last week finally declared he'd submit legislation to block the move—but it's still unclear whether this is even necessary (if the PILOT scheme is illegal under existing law, the council needs a lawyer, not a bill), or conversely, whether the council even has the power to rein in the IDA, which is a creature of state law, not city.

"In some ways this PILOT payment mystery is symbolic of this entire labyrinthine financing scheme," says Stephanie Greenwood of Good Jobs New York, who's studied the Jets finance plan in depth. "It's very hard to pin down. And with all the stadium projects in the pipeline, it could become a way to lock the council out of decisions about development projects. It's troubling."

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