Double or Nothingby Ron Singer
Memo (highly confidential):
To: Mayor Michael Boomberg
From: Sonny Ringer, Special Ops
Subject: emergency revenue generation proposal (2009: #121)
Four simple premises:
1. With the current tanking of both real estate and financial revenues, we face a projected shortfall in fiscal year 2009-2010 of 4.3 billion. 2010-2011? Don’t ask! It will take a modern-day mega-miracle to staunch the hemorrhaging.
2. You and I know that life is risk. Your own financial empire ultimately rests on the proclivity of millions of people to speculate on the behavior of their fellow two-legged animals. Since the financial meltdown has put the kabosh on the Dow Jones casino, the wagering impulse craves a new outlet.
3. Another well-known fact of human behavior: people’s favorite choices are the ones that serve their own self-interest in the name of some “higher principle.” Most of us are in bed with those illusory Siamese twins, Choice and Altruism.
4. (don’t blame the messenger): West Side stadium, caput; congestion pricing, caput. ….. You need a win. Hey, what about term limits? Well, a win, but… As I’m sure you know, there’s an election November 9th. We need a project.
The Proposal (code name: DOUBLE OR NOTHING, or DON):
DON is simple: inject a double or nothing principle into daily financial transactions. Under DON, every time they spend money, citizens will be offered two choices, which will be denominated Personal Choice, PC (pay the actual amount owing) or Civic Choice, CC (the double or nothing option). See #3, supra.
selective (very) examples:
1. supermarkets, department stores, bodegas, liquor stores, dry cleaners, etc: PC or CC options available at the registers.
2. buildings, parking and other violations: send in the summons, marked either PC or CC. If PC, enclose a check for amount indicated. If CC, you will receive a subsequent notice, thanking you for making the civic choice and instructing you to pay either nothing or double the original amount.
3. OTB (seriously, this could work)
4. other: is there really anything to which double or nothing could not be applied? (Well, maybe life expectancy.) Admissions to sporting, musical, and theatrical events, tolls, real estate taxes, pay phones (if anyone still uses them), etc. Hell, imagine paying double or nothing for a nickel bag or a blow job. (Joke).
a. stores, concert halls, sports stadiums, arenas, etc: The city provides supplementary scanners (think “hand-held parking meters”) for all payment transactions.
b. fines, tolls, etc: redesign of summonses, tax bills, and other revenue-generating documents.
1.An infomercial will legitimize DON --something like the lottery balls on TV, featuring, say, Ed Koch, asking the public, “How’m I doing? But more importantly, how’re you doing?”
2. We’ll also need a way to make all the bills, receipts, tickets, and other documents feel kosher -–say, an embossed city seal bearing the signature of someone known for impeccable honesty --Spitzer? Bernie Madoff? (Joke.)
the bottom line:
We keep all revenues from b, of course.
With a, merchants pay a flat fee to lease each scanner, plus a percentage of augmented revenues --say 1% (which we can call “the vig” –joke). For instance, if a liquor store’s revenues for a given month would have been $126K in the current system, and they were to become $178K in the new system, our share would be $520. This may not sound like much, but multiply it by ... how many stores are there in the city now --about 40,000? (Ask Mary or Jack.)
My calculator gives me a ball-park figure for category a of, say, $250 m., or almost 6% of the shortfall.
For b? The sky’s the limit!
let’s do the math (again):
1. Even in these troubled times, the gambling angle will make people buy more. (The merchants will be kissing your feet –pulling your lever-- in November.) How can we really calculate this differential? Well, like revenues from tickets, tolls, etc. the amount people buy always changes. Besides, as you and I both know, statistics are wonderful.
2. How, given the 50-50 probability for CC, could those revenues really be higher than those for PC? Hey, he who controls the machinery ...
We could unfreeze the spending freeze (partially), re-lower taxes (a little), re-open the libraries 24-7 (or 12-5 or 6, anyhow).
Who will run DON?
I have the perfect guy. (No, not Vito Corleone or Tony Soprano, both, alas, sadly deceased!) A kid from Queens branch, OMB, financial wizard, completely reliable. Does the name Freddy Lindenauer ring a bell? Pedigree? He’s the nephew –I kid you not— of Geoff Lindenauer! Not to worry: no one will remember! And if The Times does choose to remember? That, too, shall pass.
Not to mention ...
If all else fails and you ultimately decide to run for the Singapore mayoralty, another feather in your cap when you throw it in the ring!
Too hot to handle?
We can tweak it.
Let’s talk, Mikey.
cc: no one (My lips are sealed.)
Jack-of-all genres, Ron Singer's writing has appeared in publications ranging from alba and Word Riot to Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and The Wall Street Journal.