Today’s Headlines

  • Cuomo’s LaGuardia Overhaul Projected to Cost $8B and Take 10 Years (Crain’s)
  • Cuomo’s MTA Will Have to Cajole and Beg to Fund Half of Its Capital Program (NYT)
  • Port Authority Calls for More Federal Funding for Gateway Tunnel (News)
  • The Times Says LaGuardia Access Is a Weak Link in Cuomo Plan
  • Council Members Want to Regulate Tall Buildings South of Central Park (Crain’s)
  • Boro Media and CBs Agree: NYC Seniors Need Parking More Than Housing (City Limits)
  • Pedestrian Bridge Linking Randalls Island and the South Bronx Expected to Open This Summer (NYT)
  • Drunk Driver Critically Injures Cyclist on Queens Plaza North (Post, News); DNA Blames Cyclist
  • SI Driver Who Killed Passenger and Fled Scene Held Without Bail (News)
  • Gale Brewer: City Curb Cuts Are Out of Compliance With Americans With Disabilities Act (News)
  • Add the Times to List of Media to Wrongly Link Lower Speed Limit With Traffic Congestion

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

  • HamTech87

    I think journalists should have to take a course on transportation before covering it.

  • Jesse

    We all care enough about transportation that we are aware of how terrible the press is at covering it. How terrible are they at everything else, including those things that I am not as deeply invested in?

  • Bolwerk

    The principle of journalistic impartiality seems to fly out the window when economics, finance, or banking are discussed.

    Reporting on police-related matters often consists of verbatim propagation of police reports, something that Streetsblog readers are actually probably acquainted with at least tangentially through the “no criminality suspected” canard.

    I could probably go on. :-O

  • Bolwerk

    Actually, I will go on a little, since I thought of another relevant topic: housing and land use aren’t even talked about in any substantial way. Huge issue, impacts everyone. Not talked about at all except maybe buried in some local press reports about zoning board meetings now and then.

  • Joe R.

    This is really something which should be talked about by everyone, especially livable streets advocates. If we’re to push the idea of urbanism, then it has to be available to anyone who wants it in the the form of affordable urban housing. Instead, because housing in places like NYC is so ridiculously expensive, the movement is seen as a niche thing, like bikes, benefiting mainly the stereotypical Starbucks-drinking trust fund hipster, or wealthy Wall Street types.

    Parking needs to be looked at. Parking requirements make housing more expensive in two ways. One, they reduce the supply of land available for building on. Two, they add to construction expenses. Even worse is the fact they’re only of benefit to the minority who own cars.

    Taxes should be talked about also in this context. We talked about real estate taxes in another thread but it’s obvious the system is broken. Any real estate tax system overall needs to cover a certain set of expenses. And it needs to increase with inflation as those expenses increase. That’s fine. What isn’t is basing real estate taxes on assessed value. That means they can fluctuate wildly which is bad for the city. In theory the city could put away something during boom cycles to be used when there’s a bust but that never happens. The minute tax revenues are up, everyone wants a piece. Often we end up basing future spending on taxes collected during a boom cycle, with the predictable result of very difficult cuts during bad times. Therefore, we need steady, fixed to inflation real estate tax rates. This will also mean the city doesn’t have a vested interest in rising real estate prices. I suspect that’s the reason NYC hasn’t actively tried to greatly increase housing stock. It would drive down real estate tax rates (and also make campaign donors in that field unhappy).

    Undoubtedly the picture is a lot more complex and nuanced than this, but in broad strokes those are things which should be discussed by anyone in power.

  • Bolwerk

    Yes, good stuff. Parking, taxes, economics/banking/finance. policing, land use/zoning, housing, transit. Basically they all get short thrift in the press.

    And, seriously, on all these topics the rules of journalistic impartiality just don’t apply. Journalists actively take sides on these topics, very reactionary sides, and nobody blinks.

  • JamesR

    The only one that I can think of who really has their sh*t together on this topic is Nicole Gelinas. These are considered niche topics and/or beyond the level of intelligence/attention span of their typical readership. Remember that it is an industry in long-term decline – they have to pander to the lowest common denominator.

  • ahwr

    What isn’t is basing real estate taxes on assessed value. That means they can fluctuate wildly which is bad for the city.

    No! Property tax revenue has been a stable and increasing source of funds for the city. Even when the economy tanked and home prices dropped revenue increased.

    I suspect that’s the reason NYC hasn’t actively tried to greatly increase housing stock. It would drive down real estate tax revenue (and also make campaign donors in that field unhappy).

    To expand the housing stock the city would let your neighbors build higher and then some in your neighborhood, based on your posting history you would be among them, would complain. It would help your property values and hurt those of (some) apartment dwellers.

  • Joe R.

    Property tax revenue has been a stable and increasing source of funds for the city. Even when the economy tanked and home prices dropped revenue increased.

    I’m pretty sure that’s only the case with Class 1 properties where the assessed value may still be catching up to reality even during bust times because of the limit on annual increases. Don’t the assessed values on classes 2 through 4 fluctuate directly with market values? Being that classes 2 through 4 comprise the bulk of real estate tax revenue then unless they’re treated similar to class 1 there will be wild fluctuations in tax revenues with the economy.

    To expand the housing stock the city would let your neighbors build higher and then some in your neighborhood, based on your posting history you would be among them, would complain. It would help your property values and hurt those of (some) apartment dwellers.

    There are a whole host of ways to expand housing stock. Many of them involve infill using parking lots. You really can’t increase density in areas like mine if lots of people get around by driving because it’ll lead to gridlock. That’s why I’ll object to it. If the city wants to take measures to actively discourage car use before rezoning then I’ll go along with it. Such measures would include a total ban on curbside parking, both on residential and commercial blocks, infill of existing parking lots, much more bike infrastructure, etc. Long term I would want plans for a new subway lines. In the shorter term I would want enhanced bus service (bus lanes, traffic signal preemption, offboard fare payment). I’ve little doubt though the idea of discouraging car use will be a nonstarter among my neighbors, so this plan will get nowhere.

    The bottom line is even though it’s your wet dream we’re highly unlikely to increase density in areas like mine beyond doing things like maybe building 2 or 3 family homes where there was once a 1 family home. Higher density goes hand in hand with things like local subway service, something which probably won’t exist here for decades, if ever. NYC used to be smarter back when it built subways out to near greenfields. It should have done that while much of eastern Queens was still in that state in the 1920s or 1930s. I’ve little doubt if that had been the case it would more resemble the north Bronx here with lots more apartment buildings.

  • ahwr
  • Joe R.

    I see a few big bumps there which from a policy perspective I would find disturbing. That would be 2002-2004, 2005-2006, and 2009-2010. Those kinds of sudden jumps in revenue lead to labor unions screaming for wage or benefit increases out of line with inflation. 2009-2010 is really, really disturbing as it represents a 30% revenue increase. That will have all the pigs lining up at the trough. If NYC had some kind of mechanism to invest these surpluses then it would be different but they don’t.

    I would much rather see a real estate tax system where revenues roughly tracked the CPI. That would put the 2014 receipts closer to $10.7 billion, not nearly twice that.

    Going by the actual revenues NYC then should be awash in money. If it isn’t, it’s only because city spending has greatly outpaced inflation.

  • Bolwerk

    You’re probably thinking of fluctuations in sales (e.g., quantity of closings). Fluctuations in value have proven unusual for the past two decades.

    First, there are different ways of doing valuations. The three traditional approaches are (1) sales comparisons, (2) income valuation, and (3) cost analysis.

    (1) is popular with single family stock, the more uniform the better. It is harder to defend when nearby properties have wide disparities in sale prices, at least without modeling the why of it.

    (2) is for income-producing properties. Maybe it gets murky for smaller properties because sometimes incomes aren’t that good, but sales can be higher. So the fewer renters a building has the harder this might get.

    When #1 and #2 conflict, a landlord might argue, “Hey, my income is low!” and the city would be like, “Well, fuck you, because several of your neighbors just sold for 3x what you say it’s worth.”

    This method also works well for some businesses that produce income, like gas stations and newsstands.

    (3) tries to calculate value based on the cost of producing the property and its functional characteristics. A factory is probably a good example. Often there aren’t big markets for these properties.

    The ones that apply to residential properties are probably almost entirely #1 and #2. For there to be a fluctuation in #1, sales prices would need to drop. For there to be a negative fluctuation in #2, rents would have to be going down.

  • ahwr

    What do you think happens to income or sales tax as the economy fluctuates? What about your proposed wealth tax when the S&P drops 50% or doubles in a few years? Property tax revenue is stable

  • Joe R.

    Property tax is more stable but we can do even better by just indexing it to CPI. While on the subject, if the goal was stable revenue from other tax sources you could adjust the rates or income brackets up or down as needed to ensure stability there as well.

    That said, the inherent problem here isn’t that tax revenue fluctuates with the economy. The problem is the unique NYC politics where everyone has their hand out every time the revenues go up. Often government obliges them with increases in wages or benefits which permanently saddle future generations with greatly increased public expenses. The NYC BOE is the very embodiment of this type of thinking. Huge real increases in spending per pupil and really very little to show for it. Larry Littlefield is the expert on this but this little fact is exactly why I don’t want NYC getting sudden, large bumps in tax revenue from one year to the next, ever. In fact, I personally feel a decade or two of falling tax revenues would be exactly what this city needs to get its financial house in order. When a drunken sailor keeps spending money, you don’t keep giving it to them.

    NYC needs a real two or more party political system in place for a little balance. I’ll certainly grant that there may be a strong need right now to increase city spending levels beyond inflation to repair our decaying infrastructure (although with oversight to prevent the ridiculous amount infrastructure here ends up costing) and I would support that. But more money to schools and other traditional money pits? The city can go to hell there. They already spend more on education, police, transit workers, etc. per capita than just about anywhere else.

  • ahwr

    2008-2009 NYAGI among nyc residents dropped ~12%, 25% for the higher taxes over 500k group. You want income tax rates to spike in response to maintain a stable revenue stream? I thought you wanted stability for homeowners and renters? Only for property taxes, not for all other assessments? What about sales tax, do you want to track people down and tell them at the end of the quarter they have to pay extra because sales were down, so revenue was down, so the sales tax rate has to go up? Or do you change it for the next quarter? So a business that is suffering from a citywide sales decline has to deal with a spike in sales tax rates further depressing sales?

    The problem is the unique NYC politics where everyone has their hand out every time the revenues go up.

    haha, what large city, state, or county doesn’t have the same problem? You might have a different mix of powerful groups that end up getting the largest cut, but it’s the same deal everywhere.

  • Joe R.

    It was merely a hypothetical about evening out tax revenue. It’s not even remotely practical to do so except for real estate taxes. The real answer to the problem is to simply mandate that city spending be kept in line with the CPI and population increases unless there’s an emergency which dictates otherwise. Invest any surplus for use when tax revenues fall short of spending.

    NYC/NYS government is widely recognized as just about the most corrupt/sold out to special interests in the country. If I were mayor, first thing I would do is give the DOE and NYPD 50% budget cuts. It’ll be up to them how to distribute them. If they don’t want to cut personnel, everyone gets paid a lot less. Or perhaps they can give back some of the pension increases. I wouldn’t care how they do it but they would have to operate of half the money they’re getting now.

  • ahwr

    Sounds good. Until you go to legally mandated arbitration. Arbitration panel looks at your offer of -4%, the union’s offer of +5%, and says +5% is better. And also says you are wrong about not being able to pay for it since you can always raise taxes if you need to. (And raise fares if this is an mta union)

  • Joe R.

    Remember though you can’t always raise taxes or fares, nor will doing those things guarantee more revenue. Raise fares, ridership declines, perhaps to the point you get less fare revenue than before. Raise taxes, some people either leave the city, or cheat more on their taxes, with the same end result.

    I would make a simple argument here, namely that the union is asking for an offer based an an unusual, temporary surge in tax revenue due to an economic boom. The city can’t give raises as if every year will be a boom year.

    Except for the police union, the arbitration is nonbinding anyway. Another thing is under the Taylor Law employees are fined for each day they strike. The city does have some leverage here, perhaps not as much as it should, but more than enough to play hardball if it chooses.

  • ahwr

    Remember though you can’t always raise taxes or fares,

    My point was the labor friendly arbitration panels would argue we haven’t hit the limit yet.