Tag Archives: New York State Parks

Public Amenities & Vices: 2017 Census of Governments Data

Over the years I’ve heard so-called conservatives try to make the case that the business sector is the foundation of the economy, while the public sector provides nice-to-have services that we may or may not be able to afford.  As if what the government does is the cherry on top of a sundae, perhaps desirable but not absolutely necessary.  There is a reasonable “conservative” case to be made about the relative value of services produced by the public and private sectors, but that isn’t it. The types of services that can’t fund themselves, and are in the public sector, include education, much of health care, most infrastructure and public safety.  And certainly aid to the needy.  The types of services that can fund themselves with sales in the private sector include alcohol, tobacco, other pleasurable but addictive substances, gambling, pornography, and prostitution.  Do we need less of the former, and more of the latter?

Perhaps the conservatives where thinking about the subject of most of this post:  Parks, Recreation, Culture, Natural Resources, and Libraries.  They have certainly been among the first services to be wiped out in NYC when money gets tight, along with services to keep poor children from being abused, neglected and killed.  But there was no fiscal crisis going on in FY 2017, the year of the latest Census of Governments, or in FY 2007 and FY 1997, prior Census of Governments years.  So how much was spent on these services then, in NYC and elsewhere?  This uses post Census of Governments data to find out.

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Public Amenities: Census of Governments Employment & Payroll for 2017

This post is about government functions I refer to as public amenities:  parks, recreation, culture, and libraries. Just because they are amenities doesn’t mean they are unimportant, although they are often treated that way in a budget crisis.  For the young and old, in fact, the availability of these shared, social spaces is one of the most important reasons to live in central cities. In modern suburbs people shuffle between detached homes and workplaces, and generally only interact with people they don’t already know in places that have significant admission fees. In New York City you can be with people, get entertained, and get exercise without spending much of anything.

Taxpaying workers who don’t have children in public schools, don’t commit crimes, and aren’t on Medicaid, are cash cows for the City and State of New York. These public amenities, along with streets, mass transit and garbage pick up, are really all they get for the taxes they pay, since the cost of water and sewer service is funded by charges.  These are things that benefit everyone, but given the special interest-driven politics of state and local government here, the goal is always to take from everyone and give it to the “special people.”  So benefitting everyone is the same as benefitting no one in particular who actually matters.  Fortunately, Census of Governments employment and payroll data shows that as of March 2017 New York City’s agencies in these functions were not understaffed (unlike in the past for parks), and their workers were not underpaid. We’ll see what happens when the tax dollars aren’t gushing in from yet another Wall Street and real estate bubble, as they have been.

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Public Amenities and Vices: Census Bureau State and Local Government Finances Data for FY 2004 and FY 2014

Living in a city once meant that those who could not afford their own private amenities, such as large backyards, country club memberships, second homes, and bookshelves full of books, could enjoy less expensive shared amenities such as public parks, pools, beaches, libraries, and entertainment. The great supporters of these services and facilities were often wealthy people who did not need them, but nonetheless donated money to support them, because they believed the common people would be ennobled by them. Many libraries, for example, were built with money donated by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, and many New York State parks are on land donated by people like Averell Harrmian. With the highest state and local tax burden in the country (those states where most of the taxes are on mineral resources aside), one might expect that New York would have more spending on public amenities, as a percent of its residents’ personal income, than other states. But is that true?

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