Dear Mr. Mayor:I have to say first that I didn't vote for you in 1989, nor did I vote for you in 1993 either. I have been pleased, though, with what you've seemed to accomplish in your first three years as Mayor. Crime statistics are dropping and there is a stronger sense of order in the city today. Your quality of life initiatives are making little things like moving traffic a priority again, as well as big efforts such as cutting corruption in the fish market and carting industries possible and necessary. Your proposed rezoning initiatives across the city are finally bringing the city's long abandoned industrial areas into modern times while new businesses and stores are having a renaissance in the long vacant Ladies Mile and Tribeca districts.
Despite these good points, several of your economic development priorities seem misdirected, ignoring the overall needs of the city in favor of particular interests. Corporate subsidies, regional competition, and the continuing disinvestment in our physical infrastructure must end if the city is to remain strong as a whole.
Corporate SubsidiesYour rationale for tax breaks and other incentives to retain companies in the city is to keep the jobs they provide. This may be appropriate in some instances, but why do these tax breaks always seem to go to well-established, already profitable corporations? In the past few years, Disney, First Boston, and the Commodities Exchanges have all received generous city financed subsidies to persuade them to stay in the city. The billion dollar West Side stadium proposal is another example of public money being used to increase profit margins for corporate entities. The thousands of jobs these corporate subsidies finance are important, but I say subsidizing the hundreds of thousands of jobs created by small businesses in the city would be a better investment. The commercial districts of Flushing, Jamaica and Brighton Beach are flourishing due to the efforts of ethnic and immigrant families. Many of these businesses employ members of their own communities as well as supply needed services to their neighborhoods. If the nearly $400 million in tax breaks given to high-profile corporations in the past two years was instead used to finance a microloan fund, large numbers of small businesses would have benefited. We should be supporting the businesses that return money into their neighborhoods, strengthening the cityÆs overall tax base in the process.
Regional PactsSimilarly, subsidies go to those companies willing to pit city against city, state against state. Corporations who exact financial rewards by subjecting municipalities to blackmail, only get away with it because cities are willing participants. Why not form mutual non-aggression pacts with adjacent communities to prevent cities from raiding each other's tax bases? Encourage agreements as the one with upstate watershed towns that controlled land use as well as ensuring clean drinking water for the city. It would be better to call up Jersey City's Mayor Schundler to plan increased ferry connections than outbid one another for a corporation headquarters. In addition, suburban communities must learn how much they rely on New York City for services and revenues. The suburbs take advantage of urban transportation networks, entertainment resources, university centers, even social services for the poor, without adequately compensating the city. The city should target its tax policies to maximize revenues from activities available nowhere else in the region. Suburban transportation, education and welfare aid parity should be top priorities of city representatives in state and federal government.
Infrastructure InvestmentUrban governments across the country are changing the way they provide services -- more customer oriented, more entrepreneurial, less reliance on public money in favor of public/private partnerships. Yet, the core services New York City provides still do not get the attention they deserve. Privatization by itself will not fix deteriorating roads or rebuild crumbling schools. GovernmentÆs main priority should be to make clean and safe streets, fast and efficient transportation, engaging and inspiring school facilities givens, not goals to achieve sometime in the future. Every day wasted in shuffling management is another day inadequate public infrastructure is costing the city. Your recent plan for an infrastructure authority to finance projects is a good step in this direction. It must, however, contain provisions for annual maintenance on these new projects. Why spend millions constructing new infrastructure then spend nothing to maintain it? It is imperative that an inviolable trust fund be financed along with new projects to ensure future generations of New Yorkers receive the value of what we build now.
Civic ResponsibilityLastly, we should not think that the economic problems of the city are because of poor districts, nor should the responsibility of raising money be dedicated to an elite few. The entire city must understand the mutual relationships between poor and rich, majority and minority, private initiatives and public concerns. The best way would be not to use last ditch solutions to save jobs, but to reward those civic entities that contribute daily to the city. Companies like Brooklyn Union Gas, and real estate developers like Trinity Properties and the Chelsea Piers Group, are restoring parts of the city's physical and social fabric while profiting from it too. Likewise, non-profit groups like Abyssinian Baptist Church, Banana Kelly, and countless other grassroots organizations are creating neighborhood business incubators and community housing. These organizations are renewing the tax base and establishing long-term benefits to the distressed communities they serve. The city must strongly support their efforts. Civic responsibility is not only good citizenship, but makes good financial sense as well.
back to fountain send a comment december 1999