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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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Lighthouse Lite

1. I am a bear of very little brain. I do not understand how, through a decade of near-continual economic contraction and fiscal distress, New York public officials keep finding ways to invest hundreds of millions of public dollars in the construction of venues for major league sports teams.

2. In this new America, if things haven’t broken your way, then we don’t want to hear from you. But if you’re worth eight, nine or even ten figures, we can’t do enough for you. Even if you do not reciprocate our feelings.

3. See “Wang: OK Lighthouse or Else,” (Newsday, March 4, 2009); “Lighthouse’s Wang, Rechler: No more negotiating,” (Newsday, October 1, 2009); and many others. Nice.

4. Mr. Wang has been waving his finger at all of us over his demands for this and that since 2004, when the first version of Lighthouse included a $265 million refurbishment of his team’s venue, $152 million in direct taxpayer subsidies or low-cost bonding and a generous lease for 77 additional acres of Mitchel Field. And that 60-story skyscraper.

5. So now it isn’t even bogus talk about a non-existent “hub” or anything like that. It’s just build this and increased sales tax revenues will pay for all of this. County Executive Mangano suggests that detailed analysis of how that’s supposed to happen may not even be made public before this planned August 1 public referendum.

6. The 2004-2005 NHL hockey season was cancelled due to an owners’ lockout. Nassau County sales tax revenues for 2004 went up 5.0 percent, the highest increase since the Gulotta administration. In 2005, sales tax revenues went up 1.5 percent.

7. Nassau County sales tax revenues follow, fairly closely, fluctuations in the Consumer Price Index and Gross Domestic Product. Not the fortunes of the Islanders.

8. Here is another headline from Newsday (February 17, 2005, during the strike season): “Bad news for hockey, People are learning to live without it.”    

9. Forbes and other sources can estimate pretty accurately the revenues and expenditures of sports franchises, but few people on Earth ever see the actual tax returns. If you’re bidding for that minority share of the Mets, the first thing you must do is sign a strict confidentiality agreement regarding what is actually in the internal books. Breathe a word and you’re out. There may be temporary cash flow problems, but after generous depreciation allowances, few teams actually lose money the way you and I would count it.

10. Probably the biggest reason that baseball owners hated Bill Veeck, inevitably described as the “maverick owner” of clubs in Milwaukee, Cleveland, St. Louis and Chicago (twice), was that he spilled the beans numerous times on his own financing of club purchases and why everything was driven by the tax code. Veeck was proud that even with a revenue disaster like the St. Louis Browns, he never lost a dime for his investors.

11. Building and construction unions are lining up behind the referendum. These unions have supported every proposal to build out Mitchel Field, regardless of the merits, including a major jetport (1962), 40,000 housing units (1971), a horrible office park (1987) and mixed-use plans pushed by five previous county executives. We could have built all of them, one on top of each other, for less than it will cost to build this new coliseum. Plus light rail. Future jobs on Long Island will lie more in rebuilding and reconstructing rather than building out the space that remains.

12. Bonding is a type of tax increase. It is a euphemism for borrowing against the future ability to tax. It’s a tax increase some of us will not have to help pay off.

13. The people of this county don’t owe anyone any consolation prizes. Lighthouse wasn’t going to get financed in this environment, let’s face it.

14. That coliseum referendum is slated to be held on a Monday, the night the fewest Americans leave the home. That’s why Broadway is dark on Mondays. One might think that widespread participation was not desired by county leaders.

15. Now, about all these casinos…

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net