It’s hard to believe now, but back in the early 1980’s, city officials had good reason to fear that the New York Knicks and the New York Rangers were on the verge of following the New York Giants out of town. The city still was trying to recover from the disastrous 1970’s, and there was a good deal of doubt about the future. In fact, the city lost another sports franchise in 1984, when the Jets moved from Shea Stadium to join the Giants in New Jersey.
The Koch administration decided to do whatever it could to keep the Knicks and Rangers in Madison Square Garden. So, in 1982, the city offered the teams’ owner, the Gulf and Western Corporation, a pretty sweet deal: A property-tax exemption worth up to $12 million a year. The teams stayed. The policy worked.
All these years later, the tax exemption remains in place even through there is zero chance that the Knicks and Rangers will be moving out of Manhattan anytime soon. Not even the hapless James Dolan, who runs Madison Square Garden these days, would do something quite so ridiculous.
The City Council is considered a resolution calling on the Legislature, which has ultimate jurisdiction in these matters, to end the property tax exemption for Madison Square Garden. The Council has tried twice before, but both times then Speaker Gifford Miller refused to back the resolution. This time around, it has the support of Mr. Miller’s successor, Christine Quinn, as well as Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Ms. Quinn’s support is crucial, so it comes as little surprise that she is the target of the Garden team’s ire. A Garden spokesman wondered allowed why the speaker would be concerned about just a small amount of money in a city budget of more than $50 billion. One wonders: Could it be because Ms. Quinn is a diligent public servant? The Garden apparently has not considered this possibility.
And no wonder. After all, the Garden and its parent company, Cablevision, have been careful to cultivate a cozy alliance with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who can and very likely will quash the City Council’s request, just as he stopped the mayor’s plan for a West Side stadium, which, by the way, Cablevision adamantly opposed.
To help thwart the Council, the mayor and the public good, Cablevision has hired Mr. Silver’s former chief of staff, Patricia Lynch, to lobby in favor of keeping the property-tax exemption. Talk about cozy. If the Council passes the resolution, Mr. Silver will ignore it. Resolutely.
What this means, of course, is that the city will be deprived of $12 million a year. But then again, what is $12 million a year when Mr. Silver is responsible for a much greater loss? His infamous support for elimination of the city’s commuter tax has cost the city $400 million to $500 million annually for nearly a decade.
Mr. Silver and Mr. Dolan are a well-matched pair. Neither will be remembered for doing the right thing by New York City.