Saturday, June 04, 2005

Pork before Principle -- the fundamental nature of politics.

There's been much political to-do around here of late about the proposed building of a pro football stadium / convention center some blocks north of where I live in Manhattan -- with the decision deadline imminent as the proposal is an integral part of New York City's bid to host the 2012 Olympics.

The nature of the city's idiotic land use rules that allow enough of America's supposedly most valuable real estate to remain a wasteland to have enough room to build a pro-football stadium on it has been discussed previously. But that's another story.

The final vote on the stadium has repeatedly been put off due to the Hamlet-like indecision of one of the three political leaders who must approve it, Democratic State Assembly leader Sheldon Silver (the others being Republicans Governor George Pataki and State Senate leader Joe Bruno).

What could cause such indecision, about a project so long studied?

Friday was supposed to be the final decision day, yet once again...
Crucial Vote on Manhattan Stadium Is Put Off

...The delay threw the stadium's fate back onto Albany's murky trading floor of favors and promises, and set up an expected frenzied weekend of talks intended to change Mr. Silver's mind.

Once again, the project that has become...the subject of negotiations over political needs hundreds of miles apart, from the future of downtown Manhattan after 9/11 ... to the revival of depressed towns upstate.

City and state officials said they were preparing a broad package of incentives to lure businesses back downtown - appealing to Mr. Silver, who has made such an effort his pet project...

When Mr. Silver gave him a glimmer of hope that he could still possibly be persuaded to vote yes with more negotiation, [Mayor] Bloomberg conferred with the governor who agreed to delay the vote, the aide said...

Both [Silver and Bruno] have expressed increasingly stronger misgivings about the project in recent days ... Both have wondered whether it makes sense, if the city does not get the 2012 Olympics, to build a stadium that would serve as the home of the Jets football team.

But in Albany's culture of compromise and deal-cutting, lawmakers and lobbyists were unsure if that meant that the two men were really against the proposal, or staking out bargaining positions...

... [meanwhile] State officials have said that if the state spends $300 million on the Manhattan stadium, Senator Bruno is expected to seek a commitment of at least that much money for other, unrelated projects upstate. As a result, the stadium and its side deals could cost the taxpayers far more than the subsidies now planned....
[NY Times]
Let's try to imagine a world where when the Mayor of New York City says a $300 million investment by the state in a particular area of the city would be beneficial to all, the State's top political leaders study and consider the proposal on the merits. A world in which, upon reasonable study and reflection, they then state outright, in clear and unambiguous language, that they consider the project good or bad, and decide accordingly -- instead of merely wondering aloud about it all as deadlines arrive and are postponed.

Oh, for such a world!

Instead we have our world in which the project approval decision is made by one political leader saying, "If you want $300 million for the lower west side, am I going to get $300 million for my downtown district?" ... and the other saying, "Am I going to get $300 million for 150 miles upstate from here?" If the answers are "yes", we get a project worth (perhaps) a $300 million investment at a cost to the fisc of $900 million. If "no" then even if the project is worth well more than the $300 million asked for it, it is scuttled.

Of course I want politicians designing a national health care system for us all!

Sorry, that was a digression.

I said before that the city's insane land use rules were another story. That was a mistake -- they are part of the same story, of course.

The area where the stadium is proposed to be built is blighted because the government has zoned it so it can be developed only for light manufacturing -- which substantively doesn't exist in New York City. So economic and profitable commercial development there effectively is legally prohibited.

If instead this land in mid-Manhattan -- the very heartland of world capitalism -- was free to be developed by the market, then it would already be commercially developed. And then, of course, no special government-subsidized project (like a football stadium) would be needed to develop it ... and the politicians who today are called upon to sign off on the zoning changes to make the project possible couldn't extract a fee -- such as $600 million of pork -- for doing so.

Is it any wonder that politicians are so skeptical about untrammeled, free-market development?


New York Board Rejects NYC Stadium Plan
but not really...
In the end ...Pataki's representative voted for it. Representatives of Silver and Bruno abstained...

The state board could reconsider the issue again later. But without Silver's support, the state funding cannot move forward.

"This plan is at best, premature," Silver said, indicating he was willing to continue talking about the issue.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg had heavily lobbied Silver in recent days for support of the stadium. "If we don't have a stadium, we cannot get the Olympics," Bloomberg said...

Silver said the West Side stadium project and its related commercial development would hamper efforts to redevelop lower Manhattan, which he represents... [AP]