Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Yankees deal gets some more scrutiny, AY gets a mention

Yesterday, on the radio/TV program Democracy Now! (with transcript), Rep. Dennis Kucinich, whose Congressional subcommittee has looked closely at tax-exempt bonds for sports facilities, was interviewed by co-host Juan Gonzalez, who had found some curious discrepancies in the New York Yankees deal in a column Monday.

Kucinich chairs the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is looking into allegations that the city inflated the value of the land for the new Yankee Stadium, in order to enable a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes), while at the same time lowballing the value to satisfy a federal requirement to replace parkland with property of equal value.

Kucinich (right) told Gonzalez:
From what I understand, as a result of our hearing [the IRS and Treasury Department] are reviewing their policies to see whether or not the 1986 Tax Reform Act has actually been compromised by the decision that they made. I think that it’s important to understand that we’re not alleging at this point that there’s been any kind of criminal activity. We’re simply reviewing all the information that’s been presented to us, so that we can determine, first of all, the discrepancy in the appraisals; secondly, the public policy issue of using tax-exempt bonds for these stadiums; and third, if there is an inflated value of this project, the implication that it has for security laws, with respect to the issuance of the tremendous amount of bond financing.

Hearing coming

Gonzalez also interviewed corporate watchdog Bettina Damiani of Good Jobs New York and Neil deMause of the book/web site Field of Schemes; both have looked closely at the Yankees deal and explained some of the issues regarding tax-exempt bonds.

A subcommittee hearing is upcoming in September; Gonzalez asked Kucinich about it.

Kucinich replied:
I can say that my subcommittee staff… is in contact with officials from both the city of New York and the New York Yankees to discuss their potential appearance in front of our Congressional subcommittee. I think that it’s very important to understand that we’re looking at a public policy matter here that relates not only to New York and not only to the Nets and the Atlantic Yard project, but it also relates to the whole country… because it’s quite possible that there are billions of dollars in tax benefits that should be going to municipalities for the purposes of repairing their infrastructure and for schools and other things and that are instead being diverted for these private sports complexes…
(Emphasis added)

Note that Kucinich's mispronunciation of "Atlantic Yards" suggests he's not quite up to speed on the deal.

Who are the watchdogs?

Near the end of the program, Damiani pointed to the absence of local watchdogs:
The city has really washed their hands of making sure there’s any accountability on jobs and clear benefits for New Yorkers on the other side of this project, which is very unfortunate. I mean, we’re grateful for Congressman Kucinich and Assembly Member [Richard] Brodsky to get involved in this issue. Neither represent New York City, by the way. New York City elected officials—they’re filling a void, because local elected officials in New York City have refused to get involved in this project. And we need them. We need them to make sure that the promises in the press releases actually turn out to be something that we can hold them accountable for.

Who's the landlord?

So, the "Landlord's Suite," as the Daily News reported Monday, must have eight seats plus standing room for four and offer the same "accommodations, services and amenities" as the other suites in the new $1.3 billion stadium, according to the Yankees' lease with the city-run Industrial Development Authority.

The Daily News Monday reported Mayor Mike Bloomberg's erroneous denial and then a spokesman's backtrack, claiming that the city hasn't decided what to do with the seats. A commenter on the Daily News web site suggested, "'The Landlord' is not a group of city officials. It is the people of the City of New York. It is the eight million residents who should be sharing this 'Landlord Suite,', not elected or appointed officials."

Bloomberg's obtuseness

On Field of Schemes, deMause reported Bloomberg's verbatim remarks, according to Patric Arden of Metro: "In the new stadiums, the city will not have any boxes, 'cause they're not going to be city-owned stadiums. They'll be built with private money - that was the whole deal. But I don't know whether anybody has any boxes. You talk to them."

However, the Yankees and Mets stadiums will be nominally owned by the IDA, so as to be publicly-owned and eligible for tax-exempt bonds, and leased to the teams for a song--as with the plan for the Atlantic Yards arena.

Bloomberg has shown similar obtuseness regarding the AY arena, claiming (ultimately erroneously) in a 1/23/04 radio interview that "any city monies of any meaningful size will be dead issues financed by the extra tax revenues that come from this. So, we’re not going to have to divert money from education, or police or fire or any other part of the city to do this. No. It is private money in that sense."

He also suggested that "the free market" was at work.

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