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Winter 1994
City Journal Winter 1994.
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Out of the Ballpark
Adam P. Glick
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The highlight of my father’s youth was the day Jackie Robinson said, “Hey, kid, want a ride home?” after a Dodgers game. Robinson didn’t need to ask where my Dad lived because back then baseball, like all politics, was local. Dodger fans lived in Brooklyn.

Times, of course, were different. Games were played at ballparks (Fenway), grounds (Polo), or fields (Ebbets), not stadiums named after lawyers (Shea); the players lived locally, and the teams represented the aspirations of their hometown populations.

Although my Dad cried when the Dodgers left Brooklyn, he would later admit that the Dodgers left because Brooklyn had changed, and not the other way around. Baseball is a lagging, not a leading, indicator. Being in Brooklyn had ceased making economic sense years before the Dodgers’ exit.

Some things never change. For a lesson in why the city’s economy is in trouble, one need look no further than the recent controversy over whether the New York Yankees will a) renew their lease, b) move to a new $300 million stadium in New Jersey, or c) move to a new $500 million stadium in Manhattan.

What’s amazing is that they’ve stayed this long. The Yankees are no different than any other business located in the city, and like other businesses, they have come to recognize that their focus is increasingly regional. Today’s Yankee fan (or employee, or client) is as likely to come from Bayonne as from the Bronx, meaning the Yankees don’t have to stay in New York. But instead of addressing the quality-of-life issues that are driving them, and all other business, out of the city, the city has resorted to bribing them to stay. The city’s bribes usually take the form of tax exemptions. But the current situation is so bleak that the powers that be have been forced to offer to build an entirely new stadium.

What does it say about New York as a place of doing business that it takes almost twice as much money to build a stadium here as it does in New Jersey or somewhere else?

A lot.

It says that other areas don’t have prevailing wage laws. For those who don’t know, these laws make it illegal for a public project to let work to a contractor who pays less than the prevailing wage. “Circuitous,” you’re probably thinking. “Isn’t any wage (over the legal minimum) the prevailing wage?” Well, er, no. In New York the prevailing wage is defined as the wage paid to union workers—i.e., the highest wage. Thus, all public projects pay $80 an hour for electricians. Add $75 million.

It says other areas don’t have minority set-aside programs. New York City sets aside a specific number of contracts for minority-owned businesses. There are two obvious costs to this economic affirmative action. In the first place, lower the supply of anything, and the price goes up. Because there is less competition for certain construction contracts, minority contractors don’t need to bid as competitively and can potentially take advantage of the city. In the second place, sometimes there simply aren’t enough qualified minority contractors. Never mind. Here, too, the city has an answer. It simply gives preference to out-of-state minority contractors over local non-minority-owned businesses. Add $50 million.

It says other areas don’t have a Wicks law. This is the law that mandates four different contractors for each major public construction project. The lack of single-source responsibility increases costs and hampers the city with countless lawsuits. Add $35 million.

It says that other areas haven’t effectively empowered groups of nonprofessionals to deter the development process. Only New York gives synods of pseudo-experts, such as community boards, municipal art societies, and preservationists significant say in what gets built; and no other city in the country goes further out of its way to make sure that, should a private citizen object to the model of toilet used in a new office building, his objections will be taken seriously. Add $10 million.

It says that other cities don’t spend 17 cents of every dollar of revenue to service their debt. Because of this, New York bonds are below investment grade, and the interest costs to build a new stadium would be much higher than elsewhere. The state’s bonds are similarly low grade. Add $10 million.

Enough. It will be a shame if the Yankees leave. But it will be hard to cry for a city and state that push them, and everyone else who tries to cam a living, out. Sorry, Dad, I’ll just have to become a Secaucus fan.

 

 


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