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Links roundup

July 17, 2019
Watch the evolution of Amtrak from 1971 to 2011 [Greater Greater Washington]



  • Cuomo’s MTA board appointment may violate a state law, says ex-assemblyman who wrote it [NY Daily News

Gov. Cuomo’s move to put his state budget director on the MTA board may violate a state law, according to the former assemblyman who wrote it. The Public Authorities Reform Act of 2009 (PARA) requires that board members of public agencies like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority “have an explicit fiduciary duty to the authority and not to the appointing entity.” Former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester) was the chief sponsor and author of that law. Asked about Cuomo’s nomination of state budget director Robert Mujica to the MTA board, Brodsky said, “The law makes it clear that board members have one loyalty — not to the person who appointed them, not to the person who employs them, but to the mission of the entity.”

  • Public Transit Agencies Think Rewards Programs Can Bring Back Riders [Wired

Capitalizing on the spread of smartphones and mobile ticketing systems, which make personalized rewards much easier to administer, transit officials around the country are preparing for your daily commute to score you complimentary drinks, gift certificates, even free rides.

  • Coming to the Rescue for Riders Who Drop Treasures on the Tracks [NY Times

It’s a big city,” a transit worker, Vinny Mangia, had said a day earlier, reciting a mantra of his office. “Somebody’s going to drop something.” And somebody, if the item is sufficiently treasured, is going to try to pick it up.These are the fishermen of the subway system, cobbling together homemade instruments to pluck items from the tracks and release them to a grateful city.

Public finance

  • Financing dies in darkness? The impact of newspaper closures on public finance (Sep. 2018)  [Brookings

Following a newspaper closure, municipal borrowing costs increase by 5 to 11 basis points, costing the municipality an additional $650 thousand per issue. This effect is causal and not driven by underlying economic conditions. The loss of government monitoring resulting from a closure is associated with higher government wages and deficits, and increased likelihoods of costly advance refundings and negotiated sales. Overall, our results indicate that local newspapers hold their governments accountable, keeping municipal borrowing costs low and ultimately saving local taxpayers money.

  • Could Public Banks Help California Fund Affordable Housing? [Citylab]

Right now, “half of the total cost of some current infrastructure projects … goes simply to cover bank interest and fees on loans,” the California Public Banking Alliance, a group sponsoring the bill, estimates. Using publicly-run banks, advocates believe cities could get that infrastructure financing at cheaper rates than in the private market.

  • Puerto Rico’s Bankruptcy Plan Is Almost Done, and It Could Start a Fight [NY Times

After three years of negotiations, Puerto Rico’s federal overseers are at last finishing up a plan to complete the restructuring of the island’s roughly $124 billion in debt. To resolve the biggest government financial collapse in United States history, they have had to untangle the island’s thorny finances, negotiate with creditors and figure out how to do it without endangering the livelihoods of retirees who rely solely on their pensions.

Economic development

  • Arizona Gov. Ducey has change of heart for Nike following Betsy Ross flag controversy [NBC

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has decided to just do it: Change his mind and welcome Nike with open arms. Ducey initially tweeted last week that he was ordering the state’s commerce authority to “withdraw all financial incentive dollars” for Nike to build a plant in the city of Goodyear. His decision followed the sneaker company’s announcement that it would not produce a new Fourth of July shoe featuring Betsy Ross’ flag for the 13 American colonies after former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick reportedly expressed concern over its historic representation of the nation’s racist legacy.

  • Why states and cities should stop handing out billions in economic incentives to companies [The Conversation

Many states, counties and cities have economic development agencies tasked with facilitating investment in their communities. These agencies undertake a variety of valuable activities, from gathering data to training small businesses owners. Yet one of their most high-profile activities is the use of tax and other incentives to entice companies to invest in their communities, generating local jobs and expanding the tax base. Estimates of how much is spent on such incentives range from US$45 billion to $80 billion a year. But what do taxpayers get for all this money? As it turns out, not much.  

  • Do Tax Breaks Help or Hurt a State’s Finances? New Study Digs Deep [Governing]

Researchers at North Carolina State University tallied all incentives offered by 32 states from 1990 to 2015, effectively covering 90 percent of incentives nationally. What they found doesn’t portray incentives in a positive light. Most of the programs they looked at — investment tax credits, property tax abatements, and tax credits for research and development — were linked with worse overall fiscal health for the jurisdiction that enacted them.

See also

  • Drag This Out as Long as Possible’: Former Official Faces Rare Criminal Charges Under Open-Records Law [NY Times]
  • Buying Better: Cautiously and slowly, state procurement offices are taking up modern purchasing processes [Governing]
  • First Bags Then Straws: The Next Front in the War on Plastic [Governing]
  • Cities Are Not Technology Problems: What Smart Cities Companies Get Wrong [Metropolis]
  • Everything that causes gentrification, from A to Z [City Observatory]
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