Have you taken New York City’s L train to the MasterCard Station? Or how about to the one named after BlackRock, the largest investment fund in the world?
Probably not because they don’t exist—yet.
A couple weeks ago, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that New York City subway stations could soon be renamed after corporate sponsors under a new “adopt-a-station” program. Sponsors, which already include MasterCard, BlackRock, and the private equity firm Blackstone (whose CEO, Stephen Schwarzman, happens to be a key advisor to President Donald Trump), would also help Cuomo “develop private-sector solutions to problems facing the system.”
“We’ve done this in the parks system, and it worked,” Cuomo said.
Actually, it hasn’t, and that’s exactly why the “adopt-a-station” idea is dangerous. New York City’s public parks are suffering from what ails many of the country’s public goods: chronic underfunding. Yet some, like Bryant Park and the High Line, appear to be thriving. What’s going on?
While parks in the poorer outer boroughs fall into disrepair, those in the wealthiest areas rake in massive private donations for improvements and maintenance. Hedge fund billionaire John Paulson—also a Trump backer—gave $100 million to Central Park a few years ago on the condition that none of it be spent on other parks.
When funded by the whims of corporations and Wall Street, public goods meant to serve everyone become separate and unequal systems that further divide communities and perpetuate inequality. One can imagine sponsors lining up for the busiest subway stations, while those in poorer areas continue to suffer the brunt of budget cuts.
Now, New York City’s subway system, like much of America’s infrastructure, needs substantial investment—but funding must be sustainable and with no private strings attached.
Luckily, such funding is on the table. On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed a “millionaire’s tax” to help fund repairs. A portion of the ongoing revenue, collected from an estimated 32,000 rich New Yorkers, would even go to subsidizing fares for the 800,000 city residents living in poverty.
Whether the tax will pass will depend on the people of New York that want a fair and prosperous city and state.
The choice between New Yorkers paying their fair share for a world-class transit system and selling sponsorships to multinational corporations is clear. One supports a thriving city in which everyone, no matter which neighborhood they live in or how much money they have, can get to and from work, the doctor’s office, and the grocery store.
The other is, well, just another ‘America for Sale’ sign.