Impossible to Believe

We need the ability to bring politicians to court.

by George Zoffinger

PAUL FADER, state Sen. Richard Codey’s former chief counsel when Codey served as New Jersey’s governor, must believe that New Jersey taxpayers just fell off the back of some turnip truck.

It is impossible to believe that (his article)  “Why the new Meadowlands stadium is a good deal for N.J.” is anything but a lame attempt to justify the inept handling of negotiations for the new Meadowlands stadium. In reality, it is the largest giveaway of a state asset in history.

The new Meadowlands deal with the Giants/Jets is not good for New Jersey taxpayers, not good for fans and not good for the employees of the Meadowlands. Business people could have made a much better deal for the state.

One of the many things I learned at New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority is that inept politicians and bad advisers combined with politically appointed board members make a recipe for bad business decisions.

There was nothing wrong with the “old” Giants Stadium. It had the best sightlines in the league and facilities that could easily have been upgraded. New Jersey owned and operated one of the best stadiums in the world. In September 2003, management had an agreement with the Giants that would have renovated the stadium and kept it in state ownership. We were working on installing a dome that would have expanded the opportunity for events, including a regular rotation for the Super Bowl.

Then three things happened: Lehman Brothers (yes, those guys) convinced the Giants they could finance a stadium the team would own, Codey became acting governor, and the Jets deal in Manhattan fell apart.

The Giants/Jets then went into the negotiation with the politicians and rolled them. I give the team negotiators great credit. As business people, it was pitiful to watch, like watching Warren Buffet negotiate with Homer Simpson.

The result, as predicted, is financially devastating for the Sports Authority, as documented by the $32 million subsidy request to the state.

It is horrible for fans, who after 20-plus years of supporting the teams, now face buying personal seat licenses just for the right to purchase tickets at substantially increased prices.

Taxpayers put up close to $400 million toward the deal and are now forced into long-term deficits at a time when the state can least afford it. We also are left with the debt on the old stadium, which is more than $120 million. The biggest shame is that Sports Authority employees face an uncertain future when they were generally regarded as the best in the world at what they do.

Many other aspects of the deal need public scrutiny. Things like who pays the property tax on the new building and why we built a training facility for the Jets, who then went to upstate New York to train.

I have said many times that Codey had the financial acumen of Sponge Bob Square Pants. But now I think we have identified Squidward Tentacles, Sponge Bob’s effete neighbor.

Most important, where is the accountability? What we need in the New Jersey public sector is the ability to bring politicians to court, just like we can do with incompetent corporate executives and board members. Maybe then they will be more reticent to make deals that leave the bill to future taxpayers.

George Zoffinger is former president of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.

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