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Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

In 2011, I wrote about how taxpayers were getting pillaged to finance a new metro line in Fairfax County, Virginia.

But you won’t be surprised to learn that California taxpayers are getting screwed even worse.

I’ve since learned, however, that the real experts at wasting money are in the Big Apple. Earlier this year, as part of a column on why the federal government shouldn’t be involved with infrastructure, I shared some depressing details about a far more expensive subway project in New York City.

And now the New York Times has a must-read report about how another big infrastructure project in NYC is an even more absurd boondoggle. The story starts with an anecdote

The budget showed that 900 workers were being paid to dig caverns for the platforms as part of a 3.5-mile tunnel connecting the historic station to the Long Island Rail Road. But the accountant could only identify about 700 jobs that needed to be done, according to three project supervisors. Officials could not find any reason for the other 200 people to be there. …“All we knew is they were each being paid about $1,000 every day.”

Nice “work” if you can get it, as the old saying goes. A pretend job that pays $1,000 per day.

That makes the gravy train for federal bureaucrats seem miserly by comparison.

Unfortunately, that anecdote is just the tip of the iceberg. The entire project is a monument to how money gets wasted in New York City.

The estimated cost of the Long Island Rail Road project, known as “East Side Access,” has ballooned to $12 billion, or nearly $3.5 billion for each new mile of track — seven times the average elsewhere in the world. …a host of factors have contributed to the transit authority’s exorbitant capital costs. …public officials have stood by as a small group of politically connected labor unions, construction companies and consulting firms have amassed large profits.

In other words, the story’s headline is no exaggeration.

The special deals for unions are jaw-dropping.

Trade unions, which have closely aligned themselves with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and other politicians, have secured deals requiring underground construction work to be staffed by as many as four times more laborers than elsewhere in the world, documents show. …Worker wages and labor conditions are determined through negotiations between the unions and the companies, none of whom have any incentive to control costs. The transit authority has made no attempt to intervene to contain the spending.

The featherbedding belies belief.

Mr. Roach, a California-based tunneling contractor, was…stunned by how many people were operating the machine churning through soil to create the tunnel. “I actually started counting because I was so surprised, and I counted 25 or 26 people,” he said. “That’s three times what I’m used to.” …documents reveal a dizzying maze of jobs, many of which do not exist on projects elsewhere. There are “nippers” to watch material being moved around and “hog house tenders” to supervise the break room. Each crane must have an “oiler,” a relic of a time when they needed frequent lubrication. Standby electricians and plumbers are to be on hand at all times, as is at least one “master mechanic.” Generators and elevators must have their own operators, even though they are automatic. …In New York, “underground construction employs approximately four times the number of personnel as in similar jobs in Asia, Australia, or Europe,” according to an internal report by Arup, a consulting firm that worked on…many similar projects around the world.

The international cost comparisons are the most persuasive part of the story.

Taxpayers in New York City are paying far more to get far less.

…transit construction is booming around the world. At least 150 projects have been initiated since 1990, according to a recent study by Yale University researcher David Schleicher. The approximate average cost of the projects — both in the U.S. and abroad — has been less than $500 million per track mile, the study concluded. “There was one glaring exception,” Mr. Schleicher said. “New York.”

If you want a partial explanation of why this staggering level of graft and corruption is allowed, this sentence is a good place to start.

The unions working on M.T.A. projects have donated more than $1 million combined to Mr. Cuomo during his administration, records show.

And I’m sure huge amounts of money have also been diverted to city politicians as well.

It’s almost as if the whole thing is a racket, with politicians and union bosses conspiring to rip off taxpayers.

“Almost”? I must be getting soft in my old age. Let me rephrase that sentence: It is a racket to rip off taxpayers.

But let’s be fair. I don’t want to imply that it’s all the fault of the unions. The contractors also buy off the politicians.

…the…main engineering firm: WSP USA, …has donated hundreds of thousands to politicians in recent years, and has hired so many transit officials that some in the system refer to it as “the M.T.A. retirement home.”

Speaking of the M.T.A., the bureaucrats also get a sweet deal, with the rest of us picking up the tab.

More than a dozen M.T.A. workers were fined for accepting gifts from contractors during that time, records show. …A Times analysis of the 25 M.T.A. agency presidents who have left over the past two decades found that at least 18 of them became consultants or went to work for authority contractors, including many who have worked on expansion projects. “Is it rigged? Yes,” said Charles G. Moerdler, who has served on the M.T.A. board since 2010.

There’s a lot more to read in the article, including details on how a big French infrastructure project is being built at far lower cost.

It’s basically a perfect example of what Milton Friedman said about what happens when you get to spend other people’s money.

For instance, the story also has grim data about cost overruns, which are a routine feature of government infrastructure scams, both in America and other nations.

But one thing that isn’t in the report is the degree to which Washington is subsidizing this wretched boondoggle.

This is the part that irks me. I wouldn’t get too upset if New York City politicians were conspiring with interest groups to rip off New York City taxpayers. Heck, I wouldn’t even care if they were ripping off taxpayers from elsewhere in the state.

But the fact that I’m also paying for this pork-barrel project is very distressing. And it helps to explain why I want to shut down the Department of Transportation in Washington. That’s the real moral of this story.

P.S. Trump’s infrastructure plan will be unveiled next year. I’m not overflowing with optimism, but hope springs eternal that maybe he’ll listen to my advice.

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I’m periodically dumbfounded by the bizarre actions of government.

Indeed, I even put together a post comparing amazingly stupid policies in the United States and United Kingdom. And I later updated that post with new details of brainless bureaucracy.

Top U.K. entries included an effort to stop children from watching Olympic shooting events and (what must be) the most pointless sign in the history of the world, while leading American entries included preventing a girl from boarding a plane because her purse had an image of a gun and a local school calling the police because a little girl kissed a little boy in gym class.

But I don’t mean to just pick on the anglo-sphere. I’ve also noted the idiocy of the Greek government, which thinks it’s appropriate to subsidize pedophiles and collect stool samples as a condition of getting a business license to set up an online company.. And let’s not forget Italy’s new government of technocratic experts, which managed to appoint the wrong person to be Junior Agricultural Minister.

Saving NYC from the scourge of toy guns

But don’t overlook New York City, which really is in a special category.  And what are the “leaders” of the city that never sleeps doing to demonstrate their blundering incompetence? Well, read it and weep, courtesy of the New York Post.

The owner of a discount store in Brooklyn says the city is holding him up for $30,000 in fines he can’t afford — all because he stocked six toy sheriff sets that included plastic guns. And now the .44-caliber fines for the orange-tipped, obvious fakes are forcing him to close for good.

Isn’t this wonderful? These reckless politicians and bureaucrats will bankrupt an entrepreneur and destroy jobs, while achieving no legitimate public policy purpose.

But don’t be surprised. This is the same crowd that does things such as help prisoners sign up for food stamps, ban bake sales for spreading unhealthy food, and fine you $2,000 for idling your car for more than three minutes.

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Like all sensible libertarian-minded people, I don’t think the government should be regulating pornography.

There are obvious exceptions for things like child porn, of course, and I’d even throw animal cruelty into the mix of things that can be banned.

But leave run-of-the-mill adult pornography alone. Yes, some people can take it too far and become obsessed. And I certainly can understand why a wife/girlfriend could see excessive fixation on porn as a deal-breaker in a relationship.

But those factors surely don’t require government involvement.

Now that I’ve burnished my libertarian bona fides, let me state that there is a giant difference between letting porn be legal, both for libertarian and constitutional reasons. and having the government subsidize it.

Yet that’s just what New York City is doing in its public libraries. Here’s an excerpt from a CBS report.

It’s the last thing you’d expect to find at New York City’s public libraries. But find it you will. Pornography. CBS 2’s Scott Rapoport has more on the A-B-Cs behind the XXX at the library. “It’s a little shocking,” one public library patron said. “Wow. I didn’t know that. I had no idea,” added another. Yep, electronic porn too graphic for CBS 2 to show on television is available on-line for adults — on publicly used computers at the city’s 200 library branches. …Richard Reyes-Gavilan of the Brooklyn Public Library said that’s the policy — that even pornography is protected by the first amendment and recognized as free speech.

The comment by Mr Reyes-Gavilan is a perfect example of the statist mindset. If they don’t like something, they want to ban it or heavily tax it. If they do like something, they want it to be subsidized.

Why is it so difficult for some people to accept a world where people can make their own decisions with their own money, so long as their not infringing on the life, liberty, and property of others?

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In town for a speech tomorrow morning (will also be on Fox and Friends at 8:15). Saw this on my walk to the hotel.

Is the city government really this greedy? Or is there something so horrible about idling that it requires outlandish fines?

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