Progress Requires PartnershipBy Carl McCall
It has been nearly three months since our skyline changed, three months since that terrible day when so many of our friends and neighbors never came home, three months since we witnessed the destruction of the World Trade Towers. As New Yorkers, we must commit to honoring those we lost by moving ahead with their memories foremost in our minds and the interests of their families and friends in our hearts. In order to move forward we must first look back at the history and evolution of the World Trade Center.
During the late 1940s and again in the early 1960s, the idea of a World Trade Center began to take root before it was finally built in the 1970's. In the early years, the trade center had trouble attracting tenants. The massive towers saturated the downtown market, depressing rents and leading the state of New York to lease up to 20 percent of the office space to make the project feasible. By the late 1970s as the city began to come out of its slump, several large private firms signed leases. When New York State's leases expired, new firms paying much higher rents began moving in. By the 1980s, the Trade Center was profitable enough to make a contribution to projects around the region.
It is an amazing success story then: a largely public sector investment that actually went well. The trade center was a successful project because of cooperation between the city and the state. Its history, along with all we know since September 11, points the way to the direction in which we should proceed. There are five areas in which the city and the state must cooperate.
1. GOING TO WASHINGTON
The first thing we must do is have a focused, effective and coordinated appeal to Washington to get the resources to rebuild our financial center. The relationship with Washington has been very rocky. Initially the president committed $20 billion to New York. He later said that the $20 billion wasn't just for New York but also for airport security and a number of other activities. Our governor went to Washington and asked for $54 billion. His appeal was a wish list with a lot of projects that we'd like to do, not only in downtown Manhattan but in upstate New York. That effort on the part of the governor helped undermine the appeal for funds.
Our congressional delegation made an appeal to the president to restore the $20 billion. That also was not effective. My understanding is that, at the present time, what is committed to New York from the federal government is about $11 billion, hardly enough to clean up the site and rebuild the infrastructure so that private investment can complete the job of rebuilding the World Trade Center.
We need cooperation between our congressional delegation, the business community, the labor community, and the various entities who are going to Washington to bring back money. This is not just a New York issue. America was under attack. New York received the brunt of that attack. And this is the financial and telecommunications capital of the world.
2. A BROAD-BASED COMMISSION
We need to develop a structure representative of various interests to do the necessary rebuilding in downtown Manhattan. We do not yet have that structure. The governor did name a special commission with its members appointed only by the governor and the outgoing mayor. It does not include elected officials and others who have to appropriate the money and provide the authority for the rebuilding to happen. Under the governor's concept, the commission will be a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corp., an entity that is not known to be effective and, I believe, does not have the leadership or capability to do the job.
I prefer the commission that was proposed by Speaker Sheldon Silver . It was a 13-member commission with representatives appointed by the borough president of Manhattan, the mayor, the governor, the city comptroller, the state comptroller, members of the legislature and members of the City Council. The mayor-elect has got to be part of the discussion and the decision making for the structure that will be responsible for developing downtown Manhattan.
3. TAXES AND SPENDING
The state has to be an effective and reliable partner working with the city. The state of New York and the city of New York have not enjoyed a good rela tionship over the last few years. The most egregious thing that the state has done was repeal the commuter tax, a political act that has deprived the city of some $400 million in revenue that is sorely needed.
The state is not able to pass a budget on time and to provide any certainty about the amount of assistance that is going to come to the city, particularly for our school system. Unless we have a degree of fiscal discipline at the state level, we are not going to have the kind of partnership that is necessary so that the state can help the city move forward.
4. STAY IN THE BLACK
We need to make sure that we do not see the reimposition of the Financial Control Board. If the city cannot balance its budget, the oversight by the financial control board that was put in place in the 1970s could be reimposed. The mayor and City Council we elect would no longer have responsibility for making the decisions about the city's future. The Financial Control Board still exists. We can use it as a forum where impor tant officials from the city and state come together to set priorities and develop an overall fiscal strategy for the city. This could help the city avoid falling into a deficit situation.
5. GUIDELINES FOR THE MONEY
The last thing is very important in meeting the needs of the victims of September 11. This terrible tragedy has generated a great outpouring of sympathy and support from around the world. I don't think anyone knows exactly how much money has come in to the various charitable entities that wer e established. I found out almost by accident a few weeks ago that over $30 million had come into the state with no plans and no guidelines about how that money would be used.
We have to make sure that the money that has come in gets to the victims and that there are guidelines and accountability. If that does not happen, and if there are any scandals associated with millions or maybe billions of dollar, it will have a very negative impact on future charitable giving and on the non profit sector.
These are the things we have to do. We have a daunting task ahead of us but I think that New Yorkers have the ability to face up to this crisis and turn things around. New York can once more be a first class, world class city, a city that although attacked is not defeated and can once more assure its citizens that this is a safe, secure and productive place to live and work.
Carl McCall is the New York State Comptroller. He is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor next year.