“Gaming the Tax Code” Hearing Yields No Winners

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It didn’t break through the coverage of the presidential election or the meltdown of our financial system, but corporate welfare was center stage at the Capitol last Friday.

In his fourth Congressional hearing into the economic benefits – or lack thereof – of taxpayer-subsidized stadiums, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) summoned to Washington the masterminds of America’s most expensive stadium: the Yankees’ new palace going up in the South Bronx. There was Randy Levine, President of the Yankees; Seth Pinksy, President of the New York City Economic Development Corporation; Martha Stark, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Finance defending the project. Also testifying was Assembly Member Richard Brodsky who as Chairman of the state’s Assembly Committee on Corporations, Commissions and Authorities is conducting an investigation into the use of public financing for the project.

If attendees (yours truly sat in)  and web watchers (see www.fieldofschemes.com and www.atlanticyardsreport for the play by play) expected the hearing to clarify how the Yankees project  – considered by many the murkiest deal in recent New York history – got a bundle of bond financing, they came away disappointed.

Kucinich, as chair of the Subcommittee on Domestic Policy, sought to clear up the confusion surrounding what he and Brodsky claim are wildly different property assessments for the new stadium ranging from $46 to $275 per square foot given to federal agencies by the city. Kucinich and Brodsky are probing if the city’s Finance Commissioner may have been pressured by Mayor Bloomberg’s economic development officials to push for the higher assessment, which enabled $942 million in public financing for the stadium with another at least $350 million more in “completion bonds” expected shortly.

But the proceedings grew tedious. Instead of an exposé into why there were three different assessments, the hearing sank into “NYC property assessments 101,” with mind-numbing minutia and assurances by local officials that no laws were broken.

The hearing would no doubt have been spicier if the city weren’t holding back 70 percent of the documents Kucinich requested, claiming attorney client confidentiality. Even Republican committee member Chris Cannon of Utah, (who expressed support for the project and was thrilled to hear there’ll be some cheap seats) agreed with Kucinich that the city’s withholding of documents is without merit. 

For those of us in a three-year battle to get public records associated with this project, we hope the committee will persist.

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