Monday, August 10, 2009

Elevating Theft to a New Level

Kyle Smith had a wonderful evaluation of the attempt being made by a group of wealthy New Yorkers to foist a new tax on their neighbors for the purpose of maintaining a monument to their own progressive nature. In this case, it is the proposed creation of a new business improvement district (BID) to raise the necessary funds to maintain the High Line: "The High Line isn't just any park (grass, benches, jackasses on wheels). It's a fabulous floating fashion show, a parade ground of groovy for those who enjoy being above it all, literally and symbolically."

The problem here is that the cost of supporting all of this hip goodness is well beyond that of any other park in NYC: "Annual maintenance costs for the High Line are an astounding $672,000 per acre. (Central Park costs $32,000 per acre.) The park, which rises out of the pricey, designer boutique-gorged Meatpacking District, has 11 "parks enforcement patrol" officers for 2.8 acres. The Bronx gets five such officers -- to cover all 6,970 acres of Bronx parkland."

So, with all of their wealth and public spiritedness you'd think that people such as, Edward Norton, Kevin Bacon, Diane von Furstenberg and Barry Diller might be able to raise this money privately. But you' be wrong, it is the local residents and businesses who are being asked-in the form of a BID-to pony up for this park; making Bloomberg a prophet when he talked about New York being a, "luxury item."

And in the process, the High Liners dramatize all that is wrong with the proliferation of these BIDs. As we said recently-and the NY Post concurred:

"In many cases, when the mayor or Rob Walsh, the city's small business commissioner, want to trumpet neighborhood business success, they point to the creation of yet another Business Improvement District (BID). These BIDS, however, as the NY Post highlights today, are actually symptomatic-not of success-but of the way that the city surreptitiously increases local taxes by other means: "BIDs are, in effect, mini-municipalities with the power to levy taxes and provide services within their geographic limits. Back in the bad old (that is, pre-Giuliani) days -- when the city could neither clean the streets nor keep them safe -- BIDs were a novel way to finance vital municipal functions without siphoning tax dollars from bloated social-service programs or a spectacularly dysfunctional school system. Business owners within the BID got no break on their regular taxes and levies, of course -- the BID takeaways were, and remain, in addition to everything else."

So if Ed Norton, et al, are in the mood for a little urban greenery, it would be decent of them to figure out how not to stick the shlubs in the neighborhood with the bill. And if the cost of maintaining this little piece of park was expected to be a bit too dear, than it behooved the mayor-and Speaker Quinn who advocated for it, and provided the city council's own funds-to either plan for a way to control costs, or simply stop this extravagance in its tracks.

Now, however, with the maintenance costs escalating, the city wants to shift the bill to the neighborhood residents and small businesses who are already hurting from the Bloomberg tax and spend regime. As Smith points out: "To pay for all this, local business owners are about to be socked with a mandatory Business Improvement District surtax. In a twist, residents are also going to be made to pay the BID, the first time this has ever been done. All for the privilege to live near what blog calls the High Line "the country's most progressive park."

Progressive? More like regressive; as the rich patrons step aside to let the little people pick up the tab: "Being asked to pay a new tax to maintain the High Line is "ridiculous," Tam Nguyen, the manager of the neighborhood clothing shop Earnest Sewn, told The Post last week. "We were here first. None of us were ever given any sense we would be responsible for the upkeep."

So, if the mayor knows what's good for him, he will step right into this attempted highway robbery; the symbolism here is way too close to a political nerve for someone who has never shown any real sensitivity to small business or neighborhood concerns. Let the bien pensants pay for their own pleasures-and leave the local folks the hell alone.