Friday, December 9, 2011

New York's State is the Empire


Almost unbelievable, at least.  And even though I'm laughing as I type this, so very sad.

I'd already begun writing today's rant - excuse me - today's "essay" with my topic about fiscal waste in New York State firmly in mind (that's not the funny part). Then I noticed on one of my source websites a new headline about cops for a New York government agency earning over $200,000 per year.

Here it is: New York-New Jersey Port Authority beat policeman earns $221,000 a year

It's a poorly-worded headline, to be sure, since the Port Authority doesn't beat anybody but taxpayers.  But then again, maybe that's the true hidden meaning here.

Doing the Math in a High-Tax State

Turns out, 66 police officers employed by the Port Authority, funded by both New York State and New Jersey, have racked up over $41 million in overtime this year - and the year isn't even over yet.  The highest-paid cop has already taken home $265,059, which is more than most of the Port Authority’s executives earn in a year. Shucks, the PA's top dog earns only $289,667 a year.

It's not as though the region around New York Harbor doesn't have other law enforcement agencies.  Each city and town has their own police force, dwarfed by the mammoth NYPD itself.  Then there's the transit authority's police department, two state police departments, who knows how many private security firms, plus redundant federal law enforcement agencies.

And then there's the Port Authority, with its own cops.  Patrolling mostly facilities where the feds share jurisdiction, like airports, bridges, tunnels, wharves, and commuter trains.  Sure, they're all significant terrorist targets, but it's not like patrol officers from the PA don't have Homeland Security personnel providing heavy backup.  Or, for that matter, access to the highly-effective resources of the supremely-equipped NYPD.

Now, I wasn't intending to warm the cockles of my right-wing readers' hearts by blasting fiscal waste in New York. Nor was I attempting to engender some conservative bona-fides on my part by playing the low-tax hawk. Particularly after Wednesday's critique of Tony Perkins' theologizing about capitalism.

No, I was merely going to lament the tawdry state of financial affairs and abdication of logic on the part of my fellow New Yorkers in my home state.

And then, the Port Authority beats me to it!

For the record, my original examples of funny money in the Empire State come from two depressing stories out of Syracuse. The first involves a proposed remodeling project for a 100-year-old dilapidated mansion for which the developers flatly projected a loss of at least $200,000. The second involves the announcement yesterday in Albany, the state capital, of $104 million in "economic development incentives" to non-profits around Syracuse.

When Doing the Math Still Doesn't Add Up

Preserving a community's heritage is important. But it's not like Syracuse is running out of old buildings. The gritty, aging city, decimated by suburbanization after World War Two, still boasts a hearty stock of ornate Victorian and Queen Anne manses that have been carefully preserved and painstakingly updated. Then there are the many more, um, "antique" houses of dubious architectural distinction and even less credible aesthetic authenticity sitting all around town, in various stages of repair.

At the bottom of the scale rests an unfortunately high number of completely vacant structures, many of which have served as single-family homes, then apartments, then small businesses, and now finally, empty shells. In their day, they may have been grand, but today, they're eyesores, havens for crime, and drags on nearby property values.

Surprisingly, despite its terrible economy and continuing erosion of jobs, Central New York in general and Syracuse in particular have managed to preserve a decent standard of living without significantly compromising an all-American quality of life. This means that even though taxes are horrendous, old homes in inner-city Syracuse can still fetch respectable prices, considering how much it costs to heat those large domiciles during the state's frigid winters.

Which also means that all is not lost when it comes to trying to salvage an established neighborhood's respectability and pride.  So after looking at one of the city's more aggrieved, abandoned eyesores for more than twenty years, members of Syracuse's University Neighborhood Preservation Association near the acclaimed campus of Syracuse University announced a $1.1 million restoration project for the old pile.

Their aim is to clean up the three-story, two-porched, turreted, and grandly-proportioned house on a lushly wooded corner lot and turn it into four multi-storied condominiums.  Ranging in price from $125,000 to $200,000 apiece.

You do the math.

Four condos, even at the premium price, only gets you to $800,000 out of an estimated $1.1 million remodeling pricetag.  Even with some creative financing to make up part of the differential, the neighborhood association anticipates losing about $200,000 when all is said and done.

A herculean task of retrofitting a former one-family house, last used as a Jewish veterans group's headquarters, into four individual condominiums. Accommodating historic preservation rules and environmental hazard laws, while incorporating all the modern conveniences people expect when paying $150,000 for a condominium in a small city.  In the Rust Belt.  Where property taxes beat you down even more than the weather does.

All that work, and they know going into it that they'll lose - lose! - the equivalent of constructing a brand-new house.  That could probably be sold for a profit, since the vibrant university community is so close-by.

It's great that these urban pioneers love their neighborhood so much that they're promoting the opportunity to take a bath on such an expensive gamble.  But what does that say about their ability to recognize what fiscal solvency looks like?

High Taxes Paying for Economic Development? Go Figure

Then there was the much-heralded announcement yesterday that Central New York State would be receiving over $100 million in state economic development aid. 

I was wary about that news from the start.  Where does any government get "economic development aid" except from taxpayers?

Sure enough, not only is this money coming from already-overburdened taxpayers in New York State, but not a single for-profit organization is included on the list of recipients.  Indeed, every penny of that money appears to be headed for the many large non-profit organizations which subsidize life in this otherwise economically-desolate part of the country.

Incredibly, several for-profit small and mid-sized businesses that had applied were actually excluded from the list of groups awarded money.  Money that is coming from taxpayers who, if their taxes weren't so high, wouldn't be needing "economic development" grants from the state to begin with.

Top it all off with today's revelation that the Port Authority is bent on turning its patrol officers into One Percenters.  At least in terms of annual income, which for One Percenters has a threshold only a few thousand more dollars more than what these guys have earned so far this year.

And what else can you do but laugh?  And feel sorry for those people in places like Syracuse, some of whom don't even realize that losing $200,000 on a $1.1 million construction project isn't a good investment.

For years, I've thought that the motto, "the Empire State," meant that New York's capitalistic might was unexcelled.

These days, I'm thinking that the motto means the state IS the empire.

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