Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Governor's Island: With Whose Money?

It's getting to the point where the mayor's protestations of municipal poverty are becoming hard to believe-and the most recent evidence is the city's agreement to purchase Governors Island from the state. As the NY Times reported: "After more than a year of negotiations, New York City has reached a deal to take control of Governors Island from the state, moving a prime 172-acre piece of waterfront real estate into the hands of a land-starved city and closer to an ambitious redevelopment, city and state officials announced on Sunday."

But where does the city get the money from when Mike himself has said that we're broke? And the purchase-along with the reconstruction and maintenance costs are pretty steep indeed: "Under the arrangement announced Sunday, the mayor will appoint 9 of the 13 members of a new Governors Island Operating Entity. The city, which will now bear the full cost of the estimated $200 million project, said it had already committed $41.5 million. The city will also be solely responsible for the operating costs of the island, except for the national monument, which will remain under the control of the National Park Service. The city’s acquisitions could put a strain on its budget, which faces a $5 billion deficit next year. Operating Governors Island is expected to cost about $20 million over the next five years, officials said, on top of the $40 million the city has already set aside."

But Mike's buying spree doesn't stop here: "And should the city try to buy Battery Park City, for example, it would have to assume debts that run in the hundreds of millions of dollars. But city officials said that they were eager, when possible, to exploit “fire sale prices” to seize control over prime land within their borders."

But the fiscal profligacy doesn't stop the Times editorialists from waxing poetic over the prospects of the acquisitions: "The project adds one more piece to Mayor Bloomberg’s grand plan to connect the city and its residents to its once-industrial waterfront." And the Times does mention the inconvenient truth of the city's financial state-but not to highlight that it would be in any way a deal killer.

And Mitch Moss reprises his sitcom role as Mike's muneco: "Mitchell L. Moss, an informal adviser to Mr. Bloomberg and a professor at N.Y.U., said there was a “recognition that if anything is going to be done, it’s got to be done in City Hall. There wasn’t a constituency for Governors Island in Albany,” Mr. Moss said, “but in New York there’s an appetite for it. This is really going to be the catalyst for getting the park built.”

Rah! Rah! The hell with the police force, the libraries and the firehouses-not to mention the beleaguered city tax payers. How can they compare with the mayor's legacy? In the NY Post, Michael Goodwin's view is a bit more jaundiced: "If insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, then New York City is certifiably crazy. Already facing a $5 billion budget gap, unemployment above 10 percent, an ominous spike in crime and other signs of disorder, City Hall is nonetheless expanding its prohibitively expensive services. The added burdens reflect pet projects of politicians, and will do little to improve the quality of life for most New Yorkers, even as they drive up taxes. Mayor Bloomberg is ready to spend tens of millions on Governors Island, including building a high school accessible only by expensive ferryboat. He took control of the 172-acre property and assumed most of the costs from the state. He also has his eyes on buying Battery Park City from Albany."

And Goodwin is right on the money-our money! And he's got the mayor's number-not believing thew hype of the Bloomberg acumen for a second: "All these ambitious projects come as the city can't afford the level of services it already provides. Its $63 billion budget, despite increasing by more than 50 percent under Bloomberg, was recently called "bare bones" by a writer. As laughable as the concept is, the city is squeezed. It spent the soaring tax revenues from the boom, its debt service is about to double, and it's now shedding or reducing essential services even as it layers on new responsibilities."

But Goodwin didn't even include the biggest boondoggle of them all-one that makes the Governor's Island purchase look like a bodega transaction. That would be Willets Point, where the cost have yet to be accurately detailed for the belt tightening public. Why the cost of buying out all of the property owners-and did you know that many of the so-called deals have yet to be consummated with an actual city check?-will run somewhere north of $800,000,000! And we haven't included the ramps and other infrastructure costs to the estimate.

So our shrewd fiscal steward is careening ahead-building his legacy, as it were, of taxes and crushing debt. God forbid that the Times would do any more than acknowledge the $5 billion hole we're in-and chastise the free spending Mike for reckless disregard for the tax payers.

We'll leave the last word for Goodwin-and his legacy talk, a discussion that has an ominous tone, is not what the mayor would want to hear: "Water rates are going up 12.9 percent and property taxes are sure to follow, but workers on rat patrol have been cut by two-thirds, to just 27 for the whole city, to save $1.5 million. Meanwhile, nearly all municipal workers are getting a 4 percent raise this year. Amid this largess, there are distinct signs of a fraying quality of life. Some city streets are roller-coaster-like thanks to asphalt that has both deep dips and high bumps. Mounds of trash are visible along highways. Track sections on Metro North have not been cleaned for years. Many subway security cameras don't work. Crime is Public Enemy No. 1 and Bloomberg, although he promised not to lay off cops, hasn't committed to rebuilding the force he let shrink by 15 percent. Murders are up 22.5 percent for the year and shooting incidents last week were up 94 percent over last year."

Some legacy.