I invited myself today to the Democratic legislators' press conference ostensibly to hear about the “Future of Playland”. My take away from the proceedings: if that's their vision of the future, Playland is in big trouble. Today's presentation just highlighted for me the difference between politicians and business people.
The stream of consciousness type discussion started with a call for a financial audit of the Playland operations. This raises two questions: 1) don't those legislators know that the entirety of Westchester County government’s financial results is audited independently on an annual basis?; and 2) would they be so “political” to imply that County Executive Astorino is cooking the books? Do they really have the audacity to say that the county executive is acting fraudulently?
In a 2% cap constrained environment, where every tax dollar is important, why would the county executive try to create the “appearance” that Playland is losing money? Are they accusing former County Executive Spano of fudging the books also, because Playland lost money under his terms as well? If Playland was losing money under the prior administration, and the attendance has been dropping steadily since then, how does an amusement park operation like that generate a positive operating margin? One of the legislators said that Playland only appears to be losing money because they are being charged for their capital investments and repairs at the property. How do you think your personal financial statements would look if you didn't have to pay for your mortgage or your rent? As I have said previously, if you torture the data enough, it will admit to anything.
Then there were complaints about spending for advertising. Our politicians said that more money should be spent on advertising. Now I am a first-term legislator and even I know that the County Legislature has the ability to add additional expenses to virtually any expense line they want during the budget process. Don't they know that? If they thought this advertising idea is what the “Future of Playland” required, what stopped them from doing it? Last summer, the Legislature was falling all over themselves with special meetings so that they could change the fees for Playland. That worked out as well as all their other financial tinkering, not well.
The legislators also questioned why there were no more capital investments or new rides in the park over the past year. A competent business person would tell you not to make major capital investments in a property that may be undergoing significant redevelopment; something that the politicians may have not learned in politician school.
The final idea proposed today was for the Board of Legislators to take over the Playland RFP process. Seriously? Based on the track record of this legislative body’s lack of achievements over the past seven months, such a "take-over" is a scarier thought than Playland’s haunted house.
The shame of all this today is that I believe the Democratic legislators and their press machine spent more time preparing for this pointless press conference than they did trying to speak to the county executive and his staff on real ideas to make Playland a more financially viable operation.