Roosevelt Island Community Framed by the Queensboro Bridge

How Roosevelt Island Pays Far More in Taxes Than New York Sends Back


New York rips off Roosevelt Island. If you live on Roosevelt Island, your pockets are being picked. A lot more of your money goes to the state than you think, and very little comes back. They brag about it.

By David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

Roosevelt Island Community Framed by the Queensboro Bridge
Roosevelt Island. View from Sutton Place in Manhattan ©David Stone/Roosevelt Island Daily News

Take a Look at How New York Rips Off Roosevelt Island

In early 2020, USA Today reported that New York State is #1… in collecting taxes. All things considered. Albany hauls in 13.8% of New Yorkers incomes, eclipsing next worst North Dakota by over a full percent. That hasn’t changed. In fact, New York added to the pain as the only state in the union increasing income taxes in the pandemic year.

Broken down, that’s $2,877 per person in income taxes. Roosevelt Island contributes $33,836,397, using the latest census numbers.

But it doesn’t stop there. We pay an additional $1,551 per person in sales taxes. That’s another $17,601,000 from Roosevelt Islanders alone.

That’s $50 million chucked into the state’s budget from just two revenue streams. Other taxes — on property, for example — and fees for licensing, tolls etc. add in even more.

Some of it does comes back down the Hudson River. There are food help programs and housing support. And city schools count on state money for staying open.

With friends like these…

But Roosevelt Island is exceptional in that RIOC, a state agency sporting the least democratic form of local government in the United States, does not get a single nickel out of Albany… and RIOC’s proud of it, even listing it as a Performance Goal.

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

And yet, Albany – out of the Executive Chamber in Albany – remote controls everything that goes on here. RIOC’s management staff takes its orders from bureaucrats residents have never heard of. That includes high-paying, unnecessary patronage job appointments and favors on behalf of campaign contributors.

In case you’re wondering, none of that changed when Kathy Hochul slid in behind Andrew Cuomo.

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, development funds, Albany gives back much of what it takes in.

It’s standard political practice, but only on Roosevelt Island are the moneys streaming dubbed “subsidies.” That is, support for operating expenses, quality of life issues, and no matter how much Roosevelt Islanders put in, RIOC brags that it gets nothing back.

So, who pays the bills for RIOC, a fully controlled state agency?

If you live on Roosevelt Island, you do, and it’s all in addition to the $50 million plus the state already collects in various taxes and fees.

Assuming that RIOC gets state money for going about its daily business is a logical expectation. But it doesn’t, not a dime. Worse yet, Governor Hochul, like Cuomo, runs the place, hiring, firing and controlling spending… without consent of any kind from the community.

Welcome to democracy, Roosevelt Island-style.

When New York struck a deal with the city for developing 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 a concept of economic diversity, comfortable living standards, shops and stores, for everyone. Enabling legislation anticipated operating expenses included in the state budget. The idea of Roosevelt Island as self-sufficient came later and got a big boost from guess who? Governor Mario Cuomo who began cutting money for RIOC before his successor, George Pataki, finished off the job.

How that worked out is for another time, but from Day One, the state knew it must invest. And it did. But about a quarter of the way through a hundred year gig, under the first Governor Cuomo, they began pulling out.

Although the state budget swelled and taxes leaped to highest in the nation, Albany decided it couldn’t afford Roosevelt Island anymore. The community must become self-sufficient, and since then, New York has ripped off 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.

people girl capital luck
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on

The most obvious way New York steals from Roosevelt Island? It takes in over $50 million of residents income, but when it comes to paying for RIOC’s bloated bureaucracy, it’s says you’re on your own.

And the governor, unapologetically, calls the shots, running RIOC by remote control, and never leaves a tip.

New York rips off Roosevelt Island, departing from the plan…

You might think self-sufficiency was always part of the plan. It wasn’t. 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 Pataki, Cuomo and now Hochul, that’s nothing. At least in part because RIOC asks for nothing. And why should they, with 11,761 local pockets to pick?

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 sufficient for supporting all its needs independently. We do pretty well on necessities, like groceries, but Main Street’s increasingly the host of government services and nonprofits, not retail.

That includes the public disgrace of RIOC occupying Blackwell House, an historic farmhouse restored through millions in public money, and abandoning its headquarters, dispersing personnel around the community, taking up spaces previously used by the community.

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 to the once common practice of sailors, after weeks at sea, emptying fat wallets in inebriated sprees of liberation.Comparing that to RIOC may exaggerate, but not by 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 supposed 50 member Public Safety crew that’s rarely seen.

Or justified by actual service.

And rubbing salt into the wound, RIOC hands out a lousy $150 thousand in support of community organizations. 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 even meets the legal mandate for local representation, alleged community representatives approve the budget – and the philosophy – without a blink.

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