Monday, January 19, 2009

Bloomberg's Edifice Complex and Hubrisity

Mike Lupica sliced and diced the city's pathetic defense of the Yankee Stadium boondoggle in yesterday's NY Daily News: "For the last time, the Yankees aren't building a new Yankee Stadium for the Bronx because it is the poorest Congressional district in the country. And they aren't building it for you anymore than the Mets are with Citi Field. This isn't about a grand slam home run for the city's economy. It is a grand slam for these baseball teams."

Lupica really exposes, as we have also highlighted, the incredible arrogance of Yankee team president Randy Levine: "Yankees president Randy Levine - whom Hal Steinbrenner has somehow allowed to become the angry face and threatening voice of his organization - likes to scream about lies and distortions. He ought to know. You can start here: That the Yankees moved across the street as some sort of public service. They didn't. New ballparks and new arenas are never public services and never help the taxpayers, not in the Bronx, not in Queens, not in the Meadowlands. Not anywhere."

Listening to Levine, you'd swear that the Yankees were dropping twenties over the South Bronx from a helicopter: "People had a right to ask questions about the Yankee deal in particular and the way it has been written and rewritten. Assemblyman Richard Brodsky had a right to do it without being attacked as a grandstander and fraud by Levine, who comes from the Giuliani school of politics: I'm right, you're a liar."

This is, as Lupica points out, all about Bloomberg's edifice complex: "You are not supposed to say no to this mayor. You are not supposed to say no to the Yankees when they want an additional $370 million in these tax-free bonds (on top of the nearly $1 billion in tax-free bonds they've received originally). All you are supposed to do is this: When told this is a sweetheart deal for the city instead of for the Yankees, you are supposed to nod your head and act grateful. These aren't stadium deals between Bloomberg and the baseball teams. They are mergers. And Bloomberg needs them as much as the Yankees and Mets do. Because without them, New Yorkers would start asking this mayor who promised big, huge growth projects where those projects are."

Now, the real task of the upcoming election cycle, is to expose this deal for what it is: an indefensible squandering of tax payer dollars in the middle of the city's worst fiscal crisis in three decades. And even if there is some legitimate defense of the use of this tax money-that some jobs may actually be created here-the real issue becomes whether the tax revenues diverted to the nation's richest sports franchise could have been allocated to a more productive use. Put simply: What is the cost-benefit here?

As Richard Brodsky has underscored: "You may want a new Yankee Stadium, or you may not. But whatever side you come down on, remember that it's your money that's going to build it. The Yankees are alone in insisting that it's Yankee money. Even NYC officials now admit the truth of what we've been saying, that taxpayer dollars are tearing down The House That Ruth Built, and replacing it with The House That You Built."

How does the three card monte scam work? As Brodsky tells us: "Here's how they do it. The city sends the Yankees a property tax bill like everyone else gets. The Yankees write a check (about $70 million a year) to the city for that amount, just like everyone else. But next, unlike you or I, the city winks and sends that check to the Yankees' bankers to pay off the $1.4 billion mortgage, plus the $1.4 billion in interest on the new Stadium. You or I can't get that deal, but the Yankees did. And they got a lot more. The got an additional $575 million directly to build parking garages and sewers and other stuff for the new Stadium. They don't have to pay sales tax and mortgage recording taxes that every other taxpayer pays, and they get interest rate subsidies. That's an additional taxpayer subsidy of about $350 million."

This is breathtaking in its scope-as if the deal was crafted by Bernie Madooff himself; but it's the Yankees who have madoff with our money-and are doing so, in RICO fashion, with the active collusion of Mike Bloomberg: "And there are some, if limited, economic benefits to the city and the Bronx, which needs all the economic activity it can get. There won't be a lot of new jobs in exchange for our $4 billion. At most, 57 new permanent new jobs will be created (more likely only 22 as the Yankee official application says). But the Yankees also say they will create more than 1,000 part-time jobs. That's good, even if most of those folks will work only 80-90 days a year, and many will be minimum wage jobs. And there are more than 5,000 temporary but well-paying construction jobs. "Maybe a new, taxpayer funded Stadium is a good thing. Maybe the old Stadium wasn't good enough. But in the face of our current economic and social pain, shouldn't the city at least ask the Yankees to put up additional Yankee money and reduce the taxpayer burden? Is it unreasonable to ask one of the richest private corporations in the world to recognize the pain that New Yorkers are now undergoing?"

Good questions that need to be asked in the fall; since Brodsky apparently is the only elected official aside from Billy Thompson, with the cojones to call out the mayor for being the Yankees' toady. In all, the stadium deal is a monument to Bloomberg's edifice complex and his monumental ego.