Mayor Michael Bloomberg faces a $3 billion deficit for the next fiscal year and Governor George Pataki a $6 billion deficit. Both men are also faced with the problem of how to fund the additional $5.6 billion a yearthat a state court panel in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case says must go to city schools. In spite of Mayor Bloombergs claim that the city should not share the new expense with the state, a common assumption is that the city will need to take on a substantial share, at least 25 percent of the new funds.
But the mayor and governor seem publicly oblivious to their budget problems, at least in their current rush to judgment on a Jets stadium in Manhattan.
New information about the financing and governance of the stadium project raises serious questions about its costs to the city and the wisdom of the city' role in creating yet another unaccountable public authority. A November report from the governor's own economic czar (in pdf format) on the project reveals how the deal-making among the Jets, the mayor and the governor will generate actual and potential costs to the city beyond the city's initial $300 million capital commitment. And a new report from the Regional Plan Association (in pdf format) shows how the city could reap much higher tax revenues from a residential and commercial development at the stadium site.
The project report comes from the mega-public authority which controls the stadium deal, the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) â€š parent already to over 90 smaller authorities and run by the governor's economic czar, Charles Gargano. The report spells out in mind-numbing detail the project's financing plan and the enormously convoluted financial and governance structures that will build and control it.
The stadium deal will not just cost the $300 million promised to build the stadium platform and roof. There is also the money promised to pay the interest on the debt, which could double the cost. And then there are tax breaks given the Jets on their construction bonds and their property taxes, as well as exemptions in sales taxes. No estimate of these costs is included in the Empire State Development Corporation's report.
The city's $300 million capital promise, it turns out, is tied up with the state's own $300 million promise in a joint bonding understanding that would have the city pick up the debt service cost of the state's share should the state legislature not fund the state's share. (The state would purportedly compensate any city cost with some negotiated substitute funding.) The city share of debt service would be paid for by an unidentified revenue source.
The city will also lose two major streets to the project, and all the stores on those streets, West 30th and West 33rd Streets, between 11th and 12th Avenues, to provide the entrances to the stadium. A pedestrian bridge over the West Side highway on 33rd Street will link the project to the Hudson River Park (controlled by another public authority jointly run by city and state). And a three-block section of the High Line would be eliminated.
The Anatomy of a Public Authority
The stadium project depends on the creation of a new public authority, called a local development corporation, which will be jointly controlled by the city and state. The local development corporation's main job will be to issue bonds to finance the stadium. This will be done outside the control of the City Council, which normally has to approve the issuing of bonds for capital improvements in the city. The local development corporation will issue $600 million of tax-exempt "Public Sector Bonds" to pay for the platform and roof. This debt, like a mortgage, will be paid off over 25 or more years by future city and state revenues. The corporation will also issue tax-exempt Jet Bonds to help the Jets pay for the stadium itself. The Jets will build the stadium, but will be exempt from city property taxes. Any payment-in-lieu-of taxes (PILOT) they might negotiate with the city would be used to help the Jets pay off the Jet Bonds. In other words, the city will now be part of a deal that issues tax-exempt bonds for the Jets share of the construction costs.
What may be most troublesome about this arrangement is not simply its unaccountability but its presumption of joint control by state and city. In state law, cities are always creatures of the state, and in politics, cities are generally at the mercy of the state. This will not, on the record, be an equal partnership.
Moreover, such an unequal partnership can further blur solutions to and accountability for much bigger problems, such as the city's deficit and the $5.6 billion education-aid problem. Both problems will require complex negotiations between state and city. The existence of a new joint public authority in which huge city/state trade-offs can be negotiated outside the normal budget processes is not a healthy prospect.
The airspace that the new authority would lease back and forth has a value â€š ignored by the Empire State Development Corporation â€š that should be factored into any decision about land use on the West Side. The new report (In pdf format) from the Regional Plan Association shows that over a 30 year period the city would gain $510 million from rents, development fees and property taxes from a mixed-residential-commercial development over the rail yards rather than a stadium.
The stadium deal is moving quickly and the mayor and governor are intent to break ground in the spring of 2005. A hearing will take place on December 16 on the Empire State Development Corporation's project report. Thereafter, creation of the Local Development Corporation and state funding streams would seem to require state legislative approval. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver then becomes, potentially, the significant city counterweight to the mayor and governor's dealing. But in a world of secretive negotiations among various private and public interests involved in the stadium deal there is no telling what will happen.
Glenn Pasanen, former associate director of City Project, teaches political science at Lehman College of the City University.