Skip to main content

Tax Foundation on Yankee Stadium: "the House the IRS Built"

The Tax Foundation's new report, From the House That Ruth Built to the House the IRS Built: New York City and New York Yankees Abuse PILOTs to Finance New Stadium, draws on reports from Assemblyman Richard Brodsky and hearings held by Rep. Dennis Kucinich.

The same criticisms could be launched at the Atlantic Yards arena, should it be built, given that the same regulations that allowed the financing scheme for Yankee Stadium were grandfathered in for AY.

Based on calculations from Brodsky, the $942 million in initial bonds would save the team between $231 million and $471 million--though the federal government bears the brunt of the cost. "Without this generous subsidy, it is unlikely that such an expensive stadium could have been built," the report states.

(The Tax Foundation describes itself as a nonpartisan tax research group based in Washington, DC, though some say it has a conservative bent.)

Executive summary

Travis Greaves and Joseph Henchman offer this summary:
The stadium's construction costs have been publicly subsidized in the form of $942 million in tax-exempt bonds issued by New York City. Seeking tax-free status for the bonds to ensure a lower interest rate, New York structured the deal to ensure it didn't run afoul of a federal tax code provision which requires that such bonds not be "private activity bonds." This serves as a huge benefit because the bonds are exempt from city, state, and federal taxes, and have an interest rate about 25 percent below that of taxable bonds.

There are two parts to this financing scheme which seem "foul." First, the new Yankee Stadium will be city-owned and thus exempt from property taxes. Meanwhile its primary tenant, the Yankees, will pay no rent. This clearly brings up the issue of whether such tax-exempt bonds should have been issued at all, and especially when the city is so far in the red.

Secondly, to pay off the bonds over time, New York City will receive payments theoretically equivalent to the property taxes that Yankee Stadium would otherwise pay. The city claims that these payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) equal taxes that would otherwise be owed. In reality, these payments are inflated by overvaluing the stadium property by three times that of comparable property. By inflating the payments in lieu of taxes, the City can say to taxpayers that the Yankees are paying a significant part of the stadium's cost, while telling the IRS that the City is paying for almost all of it.

While the IRS signed off on the deal, it has subsequently approved a regulation prohibiting such shell games in the future. The regulation applies only to bonds sold on or after October 24, 2008, leaving previously issued bonds for the Yankees project and even newly issued bonds to pay for cost overruns in the clear. (However, the project's alleged use of inflated assessments remains the subject of public debate and congressional hearings.) Going forward, local governments will still be able to use tax-free status for private projects, but only if public benefit is convincingly demonstrated by meeting a more rigorous standard.


Overvaluing the land

The report explains how PILOTs work:
The city's claim that the Yankees' payments are akin to tax payments rather than debt service payments rests on the fact that the PILOTs are based on property tax assessments. A PILOT arguably satisfies the definition of "generally applicable tax" if the payment is not greater than the amount imposed for a tax of general application and the payment is designated for a public purpose. For example, if $50 million was needed annually to pay off the bonds, but actual property taxes would amount to only $30 million, a PILOT that would qualify for tax-free status could not exceed $30 million.

The city was determined to ensure that the payments would cover all bond costs, and equally determined to receive tax-exempt status on the bonds. Consequently, it was important that the stadium property be assessed at a value greater than the bonds in order for the payments to equal the debt service and be at a value which would produce property taxes equal to or less than what the taxes on the actual property would have otherwise been. Three appraisals were conducted, each purportedly using comparable land and taking into account the size, location, and appreciation in value from the development.


The report notes that Manhattan land was used to value a stadium in the Bronx, but doesn't point out that one comparable site was in Alphabet City, more than seven miles away.

Conclusion

From the conclusion:
But because of the way the project is being financed, it is difficult to know what the actual cost to the taxpayer is, let alone whether it is the best use of scarce taxpayer dollars.

Here, New York City has tapped into taxpayer funds by shifting the financing through different layers of local government while essentially claiming that the stadium will pay for itself.

If there are justifiable uses for PILOTs, the Yankee Stadium project does not appear to be one of them. When taxpayers elsewhere hear that any project is being funded by PILOTs, they should remember the cautionary tale of the Yankee PILOTs and insist on strict transparency and accountability so that their taxpayers do not end up subsidizing private uses with public funds.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…

Former ESDC CEO Lago returns to NYC to head City Planning Commission

Carl Weisbrod, Mayor Bill de Blasio's City Planning Commission Chairman and Director of the Department of City Planning, is resigning,

And he's being replaced by Marisa Lago, currently a federal official, but who Atlantic Yards-ologists remember as the short-term Empire State Development Corporation CEO who, in an impolitic but candid 2009 statement, acknowledged that the project would take "decades."

Still, Lago not long after that played the good soldier at a May 2009 Senate oversight hearing, justifying changes in the project but claiming the public benefits remained the same.

By returning to City Planning, Lago will join former ESDC General Counsel Anita Laremont, who after retiring from the state (and taking a pension) got the job with the city.

Back at planning

Lago, a lawyer, in 1983 began work as an aide to City Planning Chairman Herb Sturz, and later served as the General Counsel to the president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Weisbrod himself.