EDITORIAL: Delay Penn Station plan until public has more answers

People walk past Penn Station in New York City.
People walk past Penn Station in New York City.

$40 billion. Billion, with a B. Almost 20% of the entire annual state budget.

That’s how much taxpayer dollars are potentially at stake in the coming years if a project to expand New York City’s Penn Station and develop 18 million square feet of commercial and residential property around it goes through without more scrutiny, safeguards and transparency.

That’s why at least one state senator is now calling for Gov. Kathy Hochul to put the brakes on any further progress on the project until the public gets more answers about the development and the potential taxpayer liability.

And it’s why Reinvent Albany, a taxpayer advocacy group, sent a letter on Thursday to influential state senators urging them to compel Empire State Development to answer basic questions about the project’s financing and subsidies.

In July, over the objections of some legislators, citizens groups and state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, the state Public Authorities Control Board voted to approve a deal between New York City and the state to help finance the project, which includes the construction of 10 new skyscrapers around the transportation hub.

The vote allows Empire State Development to begin negotiating with developers, at least one of whom is reportedly a major contributor to Gov. Hochul’s political campaign.

State Sen. George Borrello, a Republican from western New York, is calling on the governor to withdraw any further elements of the project plan from consideration by the control board until more transparency is brought to the process and until state and city officials provide more information about the project.

Normally, a Republican calling out a Democrat in the September before a statewide election could be dismissed as election-year politics. And there’s certainly an element of politics going on here.

But that doesn’t make him wrong.

Among the unanswered questions that need to be answered, according to Reinvent Albany’s letter, include more details on how the project will bring in revenues to cover the cost of the redevelopment, questions about whether bonds will be issued and whether federal assistance will be sought, a timetable for financial expenditures such as when costs and debt will be paid, more details on the arrangement for a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT agreement), more information about payment of costs that have been unaddressed and the cost of eminent domain for the acquisition of three sites for the project.

Too much taxpayer money is at stake to take these concerns lightly or to rush forward without a full public accounting of the scope and costs of this plan.

Take the time to do it right, or put all state taxpayers at risk.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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