Dec. 24, 2008: Funds are a gift, not a bailout

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To The Editor:
Guns blazing, the megaresort boosters fired in tandem in response to the CHA chief’s suggestion that, in a time of financial hardship, taxpayer money to juice a private commercial venture might better be used elsewhere. Ms. Lawrence-Bauer, a Crossroads employee, denied that the taxpayer money enhancing the resort was “a bailout.” She is surely right about that. It is rather in the nature of a gift.
Mr. Kolar wrote with ardor of the need for economic development in these parlous times. Again, the man is right on that score, but he is dead-wrong in equating this proposed resort with “economic development.”
For one thing, economic development is aimed at sustainable job growth. Again, the hotel housekeeper jobs that will be the bulk of the jobs “promised” at this resort pay a median hourly rate in New York of $8.76, are seasonal, and carry few if any benefits. It is why UNITE HERE is working so hard to organize such workers; without unionization, these are poorly-paying, dead-end jobs-hardly profiles of sustainable career growth.
Second, there are no strings attached to this taxpayer earmark. We have the developer’s projection (along with his comment that he intends to sell a package of permits to a resort operator, who may have other ideas), but a projection is not a promise; it is certainly not a commitment. Even if it were, we have no means of enforcing this; the Agreement in Principle offers no recourse if the jobs don't materialize. (We now learn also that our state’s fabled Empire Zone program, which traded tax breaks for job promises, was a complete bust: the jobs never materialized, and small businesses never benefited. No wonder the Citizens Budget Commission, a business-backed watchdog group, says the Empire Zones should be eliminated.)
Then there’s Kolar’s point about the taxpayer dollars being “invested” to expand and improve the BMSC infrastructure. Rubbish. Skiers know that if you really want to expand and improve the infrastructure, you would develop trails in the eastern portion of BMSC within the already designated intensive use area, where a true 1,600-foot vertical could help make Belleayre the premier ski center in the Catskills. That would also cost far less than the $60 million being earmarked for what Kolar calls “improvements” on the western side of the BMSC, where the resort would be located. So here’s a choice: $60 million of your money to make a second-rate ski facility that would benefit primarily the high-end resort guests, or $25 million to make the best ski center in the Catskills to benefit all skiers.
In the Agreement in Principle, our former governor tried to give away that choice.
If we are going to debate this issue, let’s at least be honest: the $60 million was a payoff from Spitzer and some of the national environmental organizations to keep Crossroads from developing the ridge farther to the east-unlikely to have been permitted under SEQR in any case; it is not aimed at developing anybody’s economic circumstances except those of the investors in this commercial venture.

Susanna Margolis
Fleischmanns