Tuesday, November 17, 2009

In Detroit you can buy an 80,000 seat domed football stadium for less than the asking price of a studio apartment in Manhattan

For those in the market for real estate, here a good deal in Detroit. The Silverdome just sold for less than $600,000.

As a helpful comparison, here is a typical studio apartment in midtown Manhattan that you can buy for about the same price. To be fair, you do get almost 550 square feet of living space and a doorman. Parking is extra.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Lessons from New Jersey's Elections

Are there important lessons to learn from yesterday's elections in New Jersey? Some people say that the GOP is back and stronger than ever. Some say President Obama over-reached. Yet others think that the Democratic incumbent was a bit sleezy, and that hurt his chances.

These two articles paint a different picture. This first one suggests that the election was a reaction to high property taxes. Friederich Mueller, a retiree, explains the reaction:
[the community is tired] “of the massive spending and, in particular, the property taxes. They are extremely high here. You wonder, where does the money go?”

So there you go. Lots of spending and high taxes. Let's blame government, vote the bums out and move on. So what does the second article say?

New Jersey voters approved a $400 million bond measure to fund conservation of open spaces in the most densely populated U.S. state.

So there you go, again. This isn't the only time this has happened, either:

Voters in New Jersey have approved all 13 open space questions on the ballot since 1961, providing more than $2.5 billion to keep land from development.

New Jersey carries more debt than all states except California and New York, and a lot of that debt is because the voters wanted it. That debt has to get paid somehow, and that means higher taxes (and roads tolls to a degree). But I don't think you can draw any conclusions about the direction of US politics from what happened in New jersey yesterday. As has been the case many times before in many different places, the voters sent mixed messages. The only thing we can say is that they didn't like Corzine, they don't like taxes, but they do value open space and are willing to pay for it at some point in the future. And those are lessons we probably knew on Monday.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Tough times for transit finance

Here is an editorial by Mitchell Moss in the NY Times that describes an unappreciated piece in the perilous structure of transit finance. What happened is that many transit agencies shifted ownership of their vehicles and equipment to banks, and then leased back the equipment. The transit agencies got money up front and the banks got depreciable assets and favorable tax deductions.

These agreements are no longer allowed, and the existing ones are falling apart because the banks are claiming the transit agencies are in default. There is a lot of money at stake and this could be crippling to transit in many cities. The author of the piece suggests that there are some potential legislative fixes to prevent the existing agreements from coming due. Hopefully this is solvable because transit agencies have enough problems as it is.