SYRACUSE GOT CONGELED
Beware of Congels spinning tales.
And don’t give businesses taxpayer money.
Those are the lessons of yesterday’s stunning news in Syracuse that a massive resort development at the Carousel mall is never going to happen, but the developer is going to hold on to a 30-year tax waiver just the same.
Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am. Now pick up your stuff and get out.
Like they say in the country songs: Y’all got screwed, but you didn’t get kissed.
For almost 25 years, the saga of the Carousel mall has dragged itself across the hopes and ambitions of Central New York, an area once rich with manufacturing but now economically trailing a state that is economically trailing a nation.
The mall got built.
But only with an extraordinary amount of taxpayer money. It seems that at every turn developer Bob Congel had one more grand plan to announce, another superlative to unleash.
And city hall bought it hook, line and sinker.
The Syracuse Industrial Development Agency took the phrase “Grab your ankles” as its theme and gave Congel and his mall money on top of money on top of money.
Hyperventilating on boosterism, self-appointed community elites lectured the region on its lack of vision. And though Joe and Betty Syracuse knew the pie-in-the-sky promises would never be kept, bigwigs in suits rigged a deal that would give Congel and his mall a 30-year property-tax exemption.
Young families can’t afford houses because of the property tax, grandmothers are put out of their homes because of the property tax, every other business in town has to pay the property tax, but somehow the gazillion-dollar mall gets a pass.
This decade, and the next and the next.
One of the largest non-agricultural property owners in the region won’t have to pay one red cent in property tax.
Because idiots at city hall fell for his spiel.
And yesterday we found out that, no, he won’t respect you in the morning.
In a two-page exercise in legal mumbo jumbo, Bob Congel’s company said it was defaulting on the dream. All that it had promised, the grand plan that was used to force the no-tax agreement, all of that was dust in the wind.
Some felt it sounded like a purposeful con, like a dishonest game right from the start. A series of missteps that, by golly, just happened to benefit Congel to the tune of many tens of millions of dollars.
The current mayor knew it was bogus, the local state senator knew it was bogus, but it is what it is.
The upside is that there is the mall, and it does employ people, and it does collect taxes.
Though it does not pay taxes.
Defenders of the mall point out the tremendous amount of sales tax it collects.
But that is a diversion.
That money doesn’t come from the owners of the broadly profitable mall, it comes from the customers.
From the shoppers.
The Congels get no credit for taxes paid by others.
Families coming to the Carousel mall to shop are paying their fair share, but the owner isn’t.
Not for 30 years.
And down the Thruway, in Rochester, Little Congel – son Scott – is trying to rig for himself an even more larcenous raid on the taxpayer money. Sitting with a defunct mall of his own – picked up and thus far subsidized at substantial public expense – he wants the state to essentially give him a quarter of a billion dollars.
And a tax abatement.
And who knows whatever else he thinks he can get his hooks into.
Apparently, believing that the taxpayer should foot the bill for your “business” is a genetic trait.
Though it is fundamentally an un-American trait, and municipalities that allow themselves to get caught up in it do so at the peril of their integrity and their treasuries.
Which gets to the real lesson of the Congel money grabs: Government has no role in business.
It is wrong to put taxpayer money into a businessman’s pocket. Private enterprise is inherently private, and any project that is truly viable will have no difficulty finding private funding. There is no reason or moral justification for any business to receive tax credits or low-interest loans or bailout packages or “payments in lieu of taxes” or abatements or grants or waivers or anything else that amounts to a government subsidy.
It is not government’s place.
And when you violate that principle, you get into mischief. You get into potentially catastrophic arrangements.
Like the one in Syracuse.
Government sought to pick a winner, and it got its pocket picked.
Rather, it got the pockets of taxpayers picked – for 30 years.
The industrial development agencies must go away, the evils of the dole are just as destructive of businesses as they are of individuals. Welfare is welfare is welfare, whether you’re wearing a gold tooth or a custom-tailored suit.
Here’s the bottom line: No more money for businesses.
Let them pay their own way.
And let them pay property tax, just like the rest of us.
The ethics of American commerce must shame subsidized businesses, and governments must abandon the impulse to give away the store.
Before they get Congeled.
- by Bob Lonsberry © 2012