New York screws Roosevelt Island. Because so few know how taxes and benefits way so heavily against the community, nobody ever defends it. But if you live on Roosevelt Island, you’re pocket’s being picked. Here’s how.
By David Stone
To manage the Corporation’s resources with fiscal responsibility and efficiency through a single comprehensive process that is aligned with the Corporation’s strategic plan and to continue to operate without reliance on State subsidies.Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation: Performance Goals
How New York Screws Roosevelt Island: Questionable Goals
Municipalities like Roosevelt Island always benefit from State money. Whether it’s for the obvious, like police protection, or less obvious, like development funds, Albany gives back much of what it takes in.
It’s standard political practice, but only for Roosevelt Island dubbed “subsidies.” That is, supported operating expenses, quality of life issues.
You might think that RIOC, a state agency, gets state money. But it doesn’t, not a dime. Worse yet, Governor Cuomo runs the place, hiring, firing and controlling spending… for free.
When New York took over the new community of Roosevelt Island, in 1968, the goals were ambitious. Developing a small town is something like nation building in miniature. Lots of money invested for an abstract plan.
Roosevelt Island was built on an ideal of economic diversity, comfortable living standards, shops and stores, for everyone.
How that worked out is for another time, but the state knew it must invest. And did. But about a quarter of the way through a hundred year gig, under the first Governor Cuomo, they quit.
Although the state budget swelled, Albany decided it couldn’t afford Roosevelt Island anymore. The community must become self-sufficient, and since then, New York screws the community, making certain it is.
But New York keeps raking it in…
What Albany-controlled RIOC touts as a virtue, running without subsidies, is, in perspective, simply sickening.
Look at it from a different angle.
In early 2020, USA Today reported that New York State is #1… in collecting taxes. As a percent of income, Albany hauls in 13.8%, eclipsing next worst North Dakota by over a full percent.
Broken down, that’s $2,877 per person in income taxes. Roosevelt Island’s share: $31,647,000, based on a conservative estimate of 11,000 residents.
But it doesn’t stop there. We pay an additional $1,551 per person in sales taxes. That’s $17,601,000 from Roosevelt Islanders alone.
That’s nearly $50 million chucked into the states budget from just two revenue streams. Other taxes — on property, for example — and fees for licensing, tolls etc. add in even more.
Of course, some of it comes back. There are food help programs and housing support. And schools rely on state money for staying open.
But Roosevelt Island is exceptional in that RIOC, the least democratic form of local government in America, is a state agency that Albany does not help out with a nickel.
The most obvious way New York screws Roosevelt Island? It takes in over $50 million, but when it comes to paying for a bloated bureaucracy, it’s says you’re on your own.
And Governor Cuomo, unapologetically, calls the shots, running RIOC by remote control, and never leaves a tip.
New York screws Roosevelt Island, departing from the plan…
You might think self-sufficiency was always part of the plan. It wasn’t. In fact, the enabling legislation from 1968 envisioned something else.
Notwithstanding the provisions of any general or special law, the director of the budget is authorized to transfer to the corporation from funds appropriated to the division for the fiscal year beginning April first, nineteen hundred eighty-four, the amount he determines necessary to carry out the provisions of this act,1 including providing for Roosevelt Island operations, capital improvement program and any other appropriate management expenses.Roosevelt Island Enabling Legislation: § 6399. Transfer of appropriations
In clear English, RIOC gets whatever New York “determines necessary,” and under Cuomo, that’s nothing. At least in part because RIOC asks for exactly that.
And the state agency running the community without consent or local advice boasts about it.
Empty storefronts, broken roads and insufficient maintenance result. These things need subsidies because our population isn’t enough for supporting all its needs independently. We do pretty well on necessities, like groceries, but Main Street’s increasingly the host of government services, not retail.
That includes the public disgrace of RIOC occupying Blackwell House, an historic farmhouse restored through millions in public money.
Yet, RIOC spends “like a drunken sailor…”
A real estate executive, reviewing RIOC’s budget at our request, responded, “Have you ever heard the term ‘spending like a drunken sailor?'”
That refers a one-time phenomenon of sailors, after weeks at sea, emptying fat wallets in inebriated sprees of liberation.
Comparing that to RIOC may exaggerate, but not much.
In commanding a $30 million plus operating budget, RIOC pumps out over 20 six figure salaries with no indication the splurge has ever been evaluated. And suspicions about dozens of low and no show jobs are only buttressed by $4 million spent on a 50 member Public Safety crew that’s rarely seen.
Or justified by actual service.
And rubbing salt in the wound, RIOC hands out $150 thousand in Public Service Grants. Enabling legislation allows around six times that, nearly a million, but state largesse stops at the executives’ door.
Conclusion: New York screws Roosevelt Island, and it’s all legal…
That’s right. Elected representatives Rebecca Seawright, State Assembly, and José Serrano, State Senate, vote in favor of this abomination every year.
And although RIOC’s board no longer meets the legal mandate for local representation, community members approve the budget — and the philosophy — without a blink.