City Releases 116-Page Obfuscation of Stadium Deals

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photo by Shelley Panzarella (cc)

Amid today's hoopla over the Bloomberg administration's decision to give back its free luxury boxes at the Mets' and Yanks' new stadiums - about which it's probably best said that the city decided that partying it up in a suite while the great unwashed paid through the nose for tickets didn't look so hot, so instead chose to take the value on a gift certificate - there was another development in New York's ongoing baseball stadium melodrama. This afternoon, the city Industrial Development Agency also released its cost-benefit documents for the $342 million in new tax-exempt bonds the teams are requesting from the city, in advance of a public hearing on January 15 to decide the bonds' fate.

Covering 116 pages, the paperwork -- released at 5:49 pm, the traditional time to dump documents on an unsuspecting press corps, knowing that few will have time to read them let alone track anyone down for comment -- goes into mind-numbing detail on just what gewgaws the teams would be using the money for: For the Yanks, such items as $38,608,134 for "Counter Terrorism Structure Hardening" and $4,750.000 for "Perforated Metal Mesh Panels Upgrades"; for the Mets, "Structural hardening and upgrade perimeter security" and "Modification of office and rotunda flooring material" (no price breakdowns provided).

All of which is well and good, but what of the question that this hearing is meant to address: Why should the city be giving the teams tax-subsidized financing to buy all this stuff? The purchases, after all, have by and large already been made, as anyone riding the D train past the Yanks' new ultra-huge scoreboard (item SM 11R4, $14,267,040) can vouch for. What will the city be getting if it now offers the teams low, low financing on the construction tabs they've already rung up? Will the Yankees send their "Public Washrooms Upgrades" (item SM 26, $5,001,000) back to Bed, Bath, and Beyond, draining city coffers of valuable sales tax receipts?

On this matter, the 116 pages are silent: Beyond recalculating the city's original dodgy figures for how much tax revenue it expects from the overall stadium projects (the new projections went up -- duh), there's no detail at all of the costs and benefits of the new bonds themselves. The city Independent Budget Office has estimated the public cost of the new round of bonds at about $96 million, most of which will come out of federal coffers (since bondholders will mostly be ducking federal taxes), but you'd never know it from the city's official paperwork.

Bettina Damiani of the subsidy watchdog group Good Jobs New York, who's forced to pore over city finance documents as part of her job description, says that by the IDA's standards, the stadium papers are actually an improvement: They were relesed more than a full week in advance of the public hearing, and weren't the mere "crappy two pages" the city often presents as evidence for its subsidy requests.

"I'm not saying the documents they released today are going to make the lipstick on the pig any better," she adds. "If anything, this solidifies that large deals like this are an art, not a science."


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