It cost $258 million, in today's dollars, to build the Brooklyn Bridge in the 1870s. Today, New York City's mayor is proposing an $800 million annual tax increase on his city's wealthiest to pay for the billion dollar backlog in deferred maintenance.

City budgets across the U.S. are buckling under the weight of trillion dollar deferred maintenance deficits that compound at 7% per year. Is it any surprise then that some city managers are getting aggressive with tax policy in order to plug the holes in their financials?

Bill de Blasio, New York City’s mayor, is seeking to raise his city’s highest income tax rate from 3.9% to 4.4% in order to collect $500 million dollars a year for capital costs in the subway and bus system. This is quite a clean window into the cost of deferred maintenance, and not just for those 32,000 New York City residents making more than $500,000 a year, individually, or $1,000,000, as a married couple, who are being asked to help foot the bill.

While the funding mechanism is up for plenty of debate with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature, the maintenance crisis, including antiquated but mission-critical technology from the 1930’s, is not:

The critical infrastructure technology risks and deferred maintenance deficits are skyrocketing as quickly as the city’s customer service rating–as measured by voter approval for the state’s governor and the city’s mayor–are cratering.

Governor Cuomo has dubbed this the “summer of hell,” with Amtrak shutting down much of North America’s busiest train station, Penn Station, for major rail maintenance. Hour-long delays were projected for the 600,000 people who pass through Penn Station every weekday. And the pain doesn’t start and stop with crowded trains and platforms: economic analysis calculates that every hour of train delays slams Manhattan employers with additional costs totaling $14.5 million.

Infrastructure maintenance crises like this one do much more than make for good front page newspaper articles…this one is costing owners and users of New York’s infrastructure real money, employers knock-on costs, and politicians their voter support.

It’s clear what happens when a city ignores deferred maintenance. The parallels for building operators, when they imagine what might happen if their building’s “subway system” were to degrade in a similar fashion, will have them reaching for the equipment maintenance manuals, WD-40, and much more.

For further reading, see this New York Times piece on the subway switchgear from the 1930’s and Bill de Blasio’s tax plan, the original 5-page law enacting the New York and Brooklyn Bridge Company, and Bloomberg’s analysis of the “Summer of Hell.”

About Millen Paschich

Millen began his career at Cambridge Associates, trained in finance at SMU, and has an MBA from UCLA. Talk to him about bicycling, business, and green chile burritos.

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