SPECIAL DEALS FOR SPECIAL PEOPLE
Syracuse is a city in upstate New York.
It is owned by the university where Jim Boeheim coaches.
Its leaders walk around with little shock collars on, remotely connected to some office on campus where a wary finger hovers constantly over the “punish” button.
Or at least that’s how things look after a recent Common Council vote in which by a tally of 5 to 4 the city engaged in a parliamentary maneuver known as “grab your ankles.”
By waving its magic wand, the council gave one of the university’s sweetheart developers a 30-year tax abatement that means 83 percent of the property tax on a new multi-million dollar commercial building will go uncollected.
Fun parlor game: Over the next 30 years, let’s track how many white-haired Syracuse widows are put out of their homes because they can’t afford to pay 100 percent of their property taxes.
Even more fun: Let’s go around to Syracuse machine shops and restaurants – who pay their full share – explain this deal to them, and count how many times they use the F-word in the first 30 seconds.
Cultural variation: Explain it to property owners in Little Italy and add up how many times they say “mingya.”
The proposal was simple. The university had this wedge of land. It wanted to develop it. So a developer materialized out of thin air with a proposal to build the Official Death Star University Bookstore, Athletic Club and Swanky Coffee Shop.
Estimated price tag: Umpteen gazillion dollars.
Potential property tax: Sizable.
At least for people like you and me.
People like you and me pay New York property tax till we’re blue in the face.
But people like you and me don’t build properties like the Taj Ma Bookstore.
People like that are different.
They breathe out of a hole in the top of their head.
And they worship a god called PILOT.
That stands for “payment in lieu of taxes.”
Now, for regular people, the only thing “in lieu of taxes” is jail, fine and forfeiture. You either pay your taxes or the government puts its boot in your hind end.
And auctions your house on the courthouse steps.
In this situation, the university’s friendly developer – did I mention it’s a dollar-a-year lease? – said it didn’t want to pay 100 percent of its taxes, it wanted to pay 17 percent of its taxes.
Try to negotiate that deal the next time the waitress brings the bill.
Anyway, after a month of pretending to deliberate the issue, the council called a special meeting – because the university was getting impatient – and the dolt on the fence remembered which side his bread was buttered on and the deal was done.
Later that night, the swing vote got a voicemail from the developer: “Jake, I think I know what you went through. And I’m not going to let you down.”
I bet that’ll be a nice Christmas card.
All of this was explained this weekend in a newspaper story that tried to make sense of the deal.
It didn’t. It just picked the scab.
And reminded everybody about the shock collars.
And about who runs this town.
Because this tax deal was immoral and unjustified. Four members of council knew and stood against that. Four others were signed, sealed and delivered.
And the tie-breaking moron considers himself a hero.
But he’s not. He’s a patsy.
The city is two and a half years away from complete insolvency. Financially crippled by a dead business culture, rampant poverty, insane state mandates and a non-profit community whose massive holdings leave more than half the city tax exempt, the mayor can tell you about what time on what day she’s going to have to walk the bankruptcy papers over to federal court.
On the other hand, this could be the year that the university’s endowment crosses the $1 billion threshold.
The city’s economic motto is, “Buddy, can you spare a dime?” while the university’s is, “To infinity and beyond!”
And in the context of those two truths, the city of Syracuse has given a multi-million dollar development a 30-year pass on property tax. It has said that 17 percent is good enough, and the other 83 percent is forgiven.
While the work-a-day people and businesses of Syracuse continue to labor under 100 percent of one of the highest tax burdens in America.
Four legs good, two legs better.
Instead of tax relief for all, it is tax favors for the few. All men are, it turns out, not created equal, and it is not one nation indivisible. In this Democrat town, with this liberal institution, business as usual is special deals for special people.
And heaven help any of the regular people who don’t pay their property tax.
- by Bob Lonsberry © 2012