The New York Times -- unrelenting champion of the underprivileged, mighty battler against all corporate evils, and vehement opponent of Republican tax cuts for the "rich and powerful" -- lives by a far more self-serving motto:
All the corporate welfare that's fit to collect.
You won't see it reported on the Times' front page, so here's the scoop: The Gray Lady is a greedy leech, siphoning off millions of dollars in state taxpayer subsidies for private real estate development disguised as a public good. Now, the company stands to benefit from a federal tax-exempt bond program intended to help businesses devastated by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
This week, it was revealed that the Times Company's development partner for the headquarters project has asked city officials for $400 million in federally financed "Liberty Bonds." The federal program was meant for rebuilding in New York City's Sept. 11 disaster zone, not for subsidizing a private newspaper's long-planned palatial ambitions.
The background: While small business owners near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan struggled to pick up the pieces after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, all the midtown Manhattan fat cats at the Times had to do was throw a tantrum to obtain public funding for a new building. After the newspaper's executives threatened to move their workers out of town, city and state officials coughed up a vast tract of land on the edge of Times Square for a shiny, new 52-story headquarters.
One minor glitch: The land that government authorities proposed to give away -- and the 11 buildings and 30 businesses located on it -- wasn't theirs for the taking. No matter. The corporate welfare conspirators invoked two magic words: eminent domain.
Eminent domain powers were originally intended only for "public use" projects, such as highways or bridges. But with the wave of a pen, the Empire State Development Corporation, a "public benefit corporation," condemned the coveted private property on Eighth Avenue between 40th and 41st Streets for the Times' new digs. Opposed to special tax breaks for everyone else, the Times' project comes lined with a handy $26.1 million in sales-tax exemptions on equipment and materials used for construction, a waiver of the mortgage-recording tax, and a discount on electricity rates.
Although the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (you know, that pesky old piece of paper that Times editorial writers only seem to rediscover when it's needed to justify a right to sodomy or abortion or downloading porn from the Internet) bars the use of eminent domain without "just compensation," the Times is only required to pay $85.6 million for the land. That's at least a 25 percent discount, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology real estate professor W. Tod McGrath.
In addition, the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice noted in a recent report on eminent domain abuse, the Times and its developer will recoup any cost of acquisition that exceeds $84.94 million in rent concessions, a figure the Times itself estimates may come to $29 million. Buried in the 99-year lease agreement is an option provision stating that after 29 years, the Times may buy the site in exchange for one dollar.
This cozy arrangement is "legalized theft," plain and simple, as New York Libertarian Party official Richard Cooper has noted from the beginning stages of what he and the party have dubbed "Time$cam."
It's also an example of the Times' sky-scraping editorial hypocrisy.
The paper's opinion pages have been filled for the past two years with liberal rants from the likes of Nicholas Kristof and Paul Krugman decrying corporate welfare schemes and accusing President Bush and Republicans of "crony capitalism." Kristof called a Texas Rangers baseball stadium land grab supported by Bush an "avaricious bruising of the public interest." Krugman carps about subsidies to the energy industry. The Times' editorial board lambastes government loan guarantees to special corporate interests as "pork-barrel politics" that have no honest economic justification.
All have been silent on their own employer's avaricious feasting at the public trough. Who wants to oppose "crony capitalism," after all, when a corner office with windows in the new publicly financed headquarters may be at stake?
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