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IBO offers budget options, including tax revision, no exemption for MSG, and development impact fees (instead of CBAs)

The New York City Independent Budget Offices's always annual Budget Options for NYC is out (coverage in Times, Daily News), and there are several particularly intriguing and relevant options, all presented neutrally, with pros and cons.

It should first be noted that some options would have far more impact than others: Tolling the East River and Harlem River Bridges would raise $1 billion annually--ideally for transit--while restoring the commuter tax would raise $900 million. Such sums mean fraught political battles.

Eliminating the property tax exemption for Madison Square Garden would add $42 million in 2018, as the value of the tax exemption leaped after the arena's 2013 renovation. Both the Knicks and Rangers have rocketed in value, and the threat of relocation is far less, notes the IBO. The arguments against include there's a risk the teams might leave or the move would be seen as not business-friendly--both bogus. The only argument with a shred of resonance is that the city has helped subsidize other sports facilities. That deserves some more math.

Adding a property tax surcharge on vacant residential property would add $29 million in the first year. Would this be an undue burden or would it increase housing availability? As the IBO notes, "since it is levied against residential properties’ already low taxable assessed value, at the proposed rate the tax would have little impact on residences’ effective tax rates."

Revising the Coop/Condo property tax abatement program would bring in $117 million a year to what the IBO calls a very inefficient tax assessment system.

Imposing development impact fees on construction projects would raise $24 million to $59 million annually, essentially codifying what has been privately negotiated Community Benefits Agreements (CBA), some with city participation, some without. (The IBO mistakenly suggests that NYC was part of the Atlantic Yards CBA.) Under this option, the city would introduce development fees that would impose a standard fee schedule on all projects to mitigate their impacts on city services and infrastructure.

A residential permit parking program would raise $2 million in the first year. The con arguments? That it's unfair for residents to pay for on-street parking. (But, wait, why should public space be free?) A somewhat more legit argument is the impact on businesses, but that could be finessed.

Instituting a tourist fare on the Staten Island Ferry, for people who don't live, work, or study there, could raise $3 million annually. After all, making it free was a political move by Rudy Giuliani, and SI is gaining new tourist attractions. The IBO notes that the "operating expense per passenger trip for the Staten Island Ferry was $5.87 one way or $11.74 round trip," which means a $4 round-trip fare would still be a bargain.

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