March 11, 2009: Bill the public for private projects

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To The Editor:
Haven’t we had enough in this country of taxpayer funding of private enterprises?
Just south of us is a splendid example of this private gouging at the public trough—the new Yankee Stadium. First, the richest franchise in sports gobbled up public parkland, estimating the replacement cost to taxpayers at $116 million, an estimate now at $194 million. Then, to pay for needed new infrastructure, NYC borrowed $325 million—with interest, that’s $700 million, which is $700 million less for other public projects. All this on top of the tax-exempt financing of some $1 billion the Yankees asked for and received from the city.
The payoff for all this in “economic development?” If you look closely at what the New York Times’ Jim Dwyer calls “the official filings,” it comes out to a grand total of —wait for it!—22 jobs. That rounds out to a little over $86 million in taxpayer dollars per job, which is pretty generous of us for a stadium geared to the rich and to corporate sponsors, with more private suites and fewer ordinary seats than ever, in one of the nation’s poorest congressional districts. As for the impact on the surrounding community, one community leader put it this way: “The Yankees have been there for 80 years and what’s been developed? They’re building a fortress so the people coming in will never have to step foot in the neighborhood.” Cui bono? is the classic phrase: Who benefits? Not the community. Not most baseball fans. Just the investors.
We have our own mini-Yankee Stadium right here—namely, the proposed Belleayre resort. Like the Yankees’ franchise, the would-be developers here will exploit a public treasure—open-space mountainside—and claim it’s for the public good. They have expressed an intention about jobs, but an intention is not a commitment. Nor is there a process in place to ensure that these putative jobs go to members of the community being asked to subsidize the project. And there is no mechanism to seek redress if intentions are not realized. Cui bono? The investors in Mr. Gitter’s project.
When I invest in a mutual fund or buy a stock in the market, I don’t ask my neighbors to subsidize it. I accept that investment means risk as well as potential reward. The investors in this proposed resort want you and me to diminish their risk by bolstering their investment with our money. And now some of them suggest that to do so, we use the Federal stimulus money targeted to fix public infrastructure, to prevent layoffs of teachers and firefighters, and to provide health care for the New Yorkers hardest hit by this recession.
It doesn’t pass the smell test.
By the way, when the Yankees socked taxpayers for 67 percent more in public funds to replace a public park, they blamed “environmental issues” for the increase. Sure. The trees did it.
That seems a standard practice in paying for “economic development:” blame the earth and bill the public.

Susanna Margolis,
Fleischmanns