Volume 78 - Number 35 / January 28 - February 3, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Talking Point

Paying for Yankee Stadium is a major league error

By Deborah Glick

Tough financial times require tough choices. This is as true for the many New Yorkers who struggle to make ends meet at this time of record unemployment as it is for city and state government, each of which faces enormous budget gaps that must be closed. While each of us is tempted by luxuries, the more responsible individual prioritizes the use of scarce funding to first cover life’s necessities. Certainly, a family struggling to pay for care for an elderly parent would be wise to forgo purchasing a top-of-the-line, big-screen TV.

Shockingly, when faced with a similar dilemma, the city did not make a responsible decision. After proposing a fiscal year 2009 budget that would entirely eliminate funding for social adult daycare programs for seniors with Alzheimer’s, slash the capital budget for schools, decrease police and fire service and close public libraries one additional day per week, the city chose to provide the Yankees with $370 million in additional funding. The Yankees have their own cable TV network, and the team’s $207 million yearly payroll is, by far, the largest in Major League Baseball and will only be boosted by recent contracts, including an eight-year, $108 million contract.

In considering this recently approved $370 million, it is important to note that the Yankees have already obtained nearly $1 billion in tax-free bonds. They have also directly received more than $575 million to build parking garages and stadium infrastructure, and they have saved nearly $350 million at the public’s expense through interest-rate subsidies and by not paying sales tax and mortgage recording tax. While they will pay approximately $70 million for what should be property tax, the city will essentially hand over this entire amount to pay off the Yankees’ mortgage.

The Yankees have maintained that the $370 million was a necessity. The “necessities” these funds will support include a top-of-the-line Jumbotron and audio-visual system, upgrades to Yankees administrative offices and luxury suites, and the replacement of concrete ramps with granite ones. In the words of Yankees President Randy Levine, upgrades of this type will make the stadium “the most technologically advanced stadium ever built.” Levine has also explained that such high-end details are necessary because “everyone expects the best” from the Yankees. If the Yankees are committed to making their stadium the most luxurious one ever built, they should find the resources outside of government to do so.

In my testimony before the Industrial Development Agency board, the entity charged with approving the bond issuance, I urged that today’s fiscal reality and the drastic cuts that the mayor proposes in response, be the backdrop against which the I.D.A. considered the Yankees’ funding request. Many of the cuts in the mayor’s proposed FY ’09 budget are to core services for our community. For example, the Department for the Aging, whose total budget is just $300 million, is slated for cuts. These reductions would completely eliminate funding for social adult daycare, result in significant cuts to caregiver support services and eliminate other crucial supports, like escort and shopping assistance, which enable many seniors to remain in their homes.

Had the city not provided the Yankees with more than $2 billion in benefits, the administration also might not have felt the need to propose a $1.6 billion cut to the Department of Education’s capital budget. With $2 billion, the city could have created more than 26,000 new school seats which are even more desperately needed than before, given that class sizes increased at every grade level last year for the first time in 10 years. Or, with just a portion of that money, the city could have purchased 75 Morton St. and turned it into a desperately needed school. But instead of creating new school seats, the city has focused its efforts on creating stadium seats.

Finally, the city could have channeled its zeal for economic development by instead contributing money to pay for needed infrastructure repairs at Pier 40, so that a community-friendly redevelopment of the pier would already be underway. It is an insult for the city to hand over taxpayer dollars to the Yankees for their field of dreams, when they cannot help us save ours.

It is frustrating that the city and the Yankees have insisted — contrary to numerous studies showing that stadiums net very little benefit for municipalities — that the city will benefit greatly. The investment of $1.5 billion will result in a grand total of 59 full-time, year-round jobs. We will certainly lose far more than this amount if the mayor’s proposed cuts are approved. Further, while the new stadium has created constructions jobs, these jobs would have been created if the city was building new schools. Finally, while there have been claims that the stadium will produce millions of dollars in tax revenue from the sale of concessions and souvenirs, the old stadium was already generating similar revenue from these items.

Elected leaders have an enormous responsibility to steward the city and state through this challenging time by prioritizing the use of scarce dollars. Unfortunately, the Bloomberg administration has failed average New Yorkers in this task by once again placing the needs of a wealthy interest above ours. I see no way that the city can justify its prioritization to a parent in my district whose child is in a classroom crowded with 35 other students, or to a constituent who no longer can access the social adult daycare program for her father that allowed her to work. The city’s actions and the I.D.A.’s approval are not just inexplicable, they are inexcusable and constitute a significant breach of the public trust.

Glick is state assemblymember for the 66th District

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