Saratoga improvements

June 24, 2015

I recently read that some changes are in store for this season’s Saratoga meet, all of which seem to me negative from the fan’s perspective.  Already paying more for admission, fans now will be asked to pay for reserved seats at some new picnic tables and in the Carousel.  Several old trees will be removed to make way for a museum, despite the presence of one of national stature across the street.  And a way of getting young people to the track, and maybe converting some of them into fans — the open house — will be no more.

What we don’t see, and I’m sure never will, is anything that recognizes that the track competes with other gambling venues.  Improve the quality of racing on non “marquee” days?  Lower the takeout?  Provide free handicapping information?  Throw your own account holders a bone by offering free admission to those showing NYRA rewards cards, even if only on weekdays?  Not on your life.  It’s all about squeezing the lemon.

I understand that NYRA is under pressure to be self-sustaining, and that it will not be easy for it to do so.  I also understand that the amusement park model with which Mr. Kay is familiar is based on getting the “guests” to pay for everything.  But amusements parks are sustained by many, many casual visitors who may visit a few times in a lifetime, or maybe once or twice a year.  Racing is sustained by year-round bettors, who are finding it more and more difficult to stay in the game.  What you can get out of the casual Saratoga fan, even if you squeeze the lemon really hard, isn’t going to keep the lights on at the Aqueduct tote board, and the few hundred lemons on the grounds there in January or February don’t contain much juice.

Rent regulations expire; upstate concerned

June 16, 2015

Why would upstate care about NYC area rent regulations, prompting the unlikely headline above?  As time goes on, those lucky enough to have moved into rent stabilized apartments in the City pay less and less of their total income for rent.  Over twenty years or more, these savings can become substantial, producing enough to enable the tenant to purchase a weekend home, which many do in areas surrounding Albany, such as Hudson, the Catskills and the Taconics.  These weekenders pump a lot of money into local upstate economies.  So why do upstaters usually  regard rent regulation as socialistic and anathematic to their values? I suppose many don’t understand that they are beneficiaries (in many cases indirectly) of the law of unintended consequences, but I do believe (though I haven’t seen any studies) that the economic impact on many localities of weekend visits by NYC residents is substantial.

As one who benefited from rent stabilization many years ago, I understand that it makes some parts of the City affordable to those who otherwise would have to live in less desirable areas, and that it therefore may increase diversity in those areas.  I also have seen the effect of a lack of regulation in the commercial rent sector in the City, where many local businesses not fortunate enough to own the buildings they occupy have been forced out, to be replaced by stores and restaurants one finds at malls in more suburban locales.  This does not make the City more attractive.

Nonetheless, rent regulation has many flaws, even if you accept its basic premise.  Though allegedly a restraint on price increases, it is in reality a confiscation of wealth from private owners and a transfer of such wealth to others who, unless they are very high earners, qualify for the program regardless of their net worth or income.  It encourages people to stay in apartments they do not need, because downsizing would cost, rather than save, them money.  When an “empty nester” holds on to a five-room apartment in which he has lived for 30 years because moving to a studio would result in a rent increase, how does that help the young family wanting to move to the City?  One also should not forget that, in the 1970s and 80s when I lived in the City, many landlords who did not want to be subject to rent stabilization converted their buildings into condos and coops and thus removed them from the rental market, though some protections were afforded to tenants who did not wish to buy their units.  And, since rental properties are valued for tax purposes by the income they produce, regulated rents result in under taxed properties, meaning the City does without some tax revenue or others make up the difference.

The unintended consequences of a blunt instrument do not mean it should be abolished.  Certainly, it should not be abolished all at once without prior notice.  If the powers that be line up in a way that indicates support for continuing the present system may not exist, the responsible course of action would be to extend the current system for a year or two, and to use the time to develop a plan for an orderly transition to a substitute, whether it be a different form of regulation or gradual deregulation.  Of course, during that time, the balance of power could shift, meaning it likely will not happen.

Not ready for prime time

June 4, 2015

I never understood why the Post Office will gladly deliver mail to your home or office for free, but charge you to pick it up at its place of business.  Nonetheless, I have rented a box for several years.  Even though I receive mail at it sporadically, when I do receive mail, it’s usually important.  I therefore find myself making several trips a week to check on an empty box.

Several months ago, a flyer in my box announced the availability of new services for post office box holders including, of great interest to me, e-mail notification when mail is put in the box.  My enthusiasm turned to joy when, upon asking about the cost of the new service, I was told it was free.  I immediately signed up and, lo and behold . . . nothing.

I brought the problem to the attention of two clerks at the local post office, and nothing was done.  I wrote to the postal authorities in Washington, and received no reply.

Finally, when I again complained at my local post office, I was put in touch with a supervisor who cared and who worked hard to solve my problem.  Today, we had a breakthrough — I received my first e-mail notification, almost three hours after the mail was put in my box and almost an hour after I had picked it up.

While I pursued this matter, everyone I spoke with told me I was far from the only one experiencing problems with this service.  Although it is true that the enrollment form stated the service was provided without liability and was experimental, it should not have been introduced until it was working a lot more smoothly.  And that it is provided for free is no excuse, since box prices are not low and are going up, at least in part, I suspect, because of the enhanced services provided.  In short, this was a massive fail by the post office, a government entity I used to regard as dependable and consumer-friendly.