For the past year I’ve made no secret of my opposition to the egregious tax giveaway that the City Council of Long Beach is eager to give to luxury development giant iStar, now known as Wayfarer LLC.
On May 25, the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency was set to vote on the project’s fate. Would iStar be rewarded a $109 million tax abatement, inevitably forcing the taxpayers of Long Beach, the city’s school district and Nassau County to pick up the tab for the rich Manhattan-based developer?
At the last second, the IDA decided to postpone the vote, saying it had been flooded with calls expressing concern about the project and needed more time to review it.
The IDA should be applauded for its due diligence. Here’s why. The developer wants to rebuild the Superblock in Long Beach by filling the vacant lot with two massive 160-foot-tall towers with 522 units. These buildings would be seven stories higher than any other building in Long Beach.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am in no way against building or development. New construction brings new jobs, both union and private, which is good for any community. My fight is for the taxpayers, and is not meant as an offense to hard-working union and construction workers. What I am opposed to is tax giveaways and a complete disregard for the very real financial needs of our towns and our schools.
The proposed deal would give iStar a $109 million reduction in taxes over 20 years. The IDA commissioned Saratoga Springs-based Camoin Associates to undertake an economic analysis. Its report projected that the school district would gain $8 million in new tax revenue, and Nassau County would get $4.7 million, over the life of the 20-year proposal.
This could not be further from reality. The study claims that there would be 12 additional students in Long Beach schools, but the school district claims that the number could be closer to 100. The study also severely underestimated the budgetary impact that two 17-story towers would have on Long Beach’s water, sanitation, police and fire departments and other related services.
The report also estimated that taxes would increase .73 percent annually, and school taxes, .12 percent annually. That’s unfathomable. Long Beach just raised taxes by 6.2 percent! And when was the last time you heard that school taxes would be raised by slightly more than one-tenth of one percent?
I want to congratulate the 12 Republican members of the Nassau County Legislature, especially Denise Ford, of Long Beach, who has been a true champion for the taxpayers of her district. She persuaded her fellow legislators to send a letter to the IDA, urging it to delay its decision on this ridiculous giveaway of taxpayer money.
And kudos to the IDA for seeing through the flawed report. Behind the scenes, community members really came together to fight for their rights as taxpayers. Long Beach school officials, led by Superintendent Dave Weiss, wrote an extremely powerful letter to the IDA with a brilliant analysis of exactly what this project would do to an already overburdened school budget.
Shame on other elected officials, like Long Beach City Council Member Anthony Eramo, who continue to campaign to give away taxpayer money. He just doesn’t get it!
In closing, a story. As a freshman U.S. senator, I decided to go up against one of the most powerful men in the Senate, Bob Dole, regarding industrial development bonds. Dole viewed them as inconsistent with a free market. I disagreed, and stated that the bonds could be used to effectively strengthen a community, produce jobs, attract new investment and create a foundation for genuine economic growth.
Dole was far more cynical than I, and said that industrial development agencies could easily become an extension of the “political” clubhouse, held captive by those with hidden agendas and special interests.
I was preparing to call Dole and tell him he was right, but then I remembered my roots. Don’t tell President Obama, but there is something to be said for community organizing. I will proudly continue my fight against any egregious tax giveaways.
Trust me. It’s easier than calling Bob Dole and hearing, “I told you so.”
Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.