[Nothing new in that. A cliche, actually. But nonetheless true.]

The parking pass machines at the Princeton Municipal Parking Garage are being replaced.  Parking passes are sold at the two entries, for either $20, $40 or $60; the incentive to invest in the larger amounts is that when you do, you get an extra $4 or more added to the card, over and above what you purchased. The incentive to keep a pass in your car at all (rather than take a ticket each time you enter) is the ease of getting out of the garage when you leave; you slide your card in a machine at either of the two exits, the cost of your parking is subtracted from the amount left on the card, the gate lifts, and out you go. You don’t even notice what you’re paying, especially if you can afford to load the card with $60 at a time (plus the additional dollar incentive); the amount left after each exit drops so slowly it seems quite a while before you have to reload the card.

Now for six weeks, while the replacement of the machines takes place, pass holders like me have to take a ticket when they enter anyway, and later pay in cash or by credit card at another machine near the entrance before getting back into their cars to exit.  For this reason the other day I found myself in a line at the machine where you pay the ticket before exiting. The line was short but the waiting time long.  The woman ahead of me was having difficulty figuring out which slot was which.  She complained loudly that the machine wasn’t giving her any change.  Then she shrugged and began to walk away, as if that’s what you might expect these days, when it seems every corporation and institution and merchant one deals with is trying to squeeze a bit more profit out of each transaction in which you engage with them.  In this instance she was wrong. Not giving change without prior notice would have been blatant fraud, and the subject of all kinds of indignant letters to the editors of Town Topics. Just as she was about the enter the elevator with her paid ticket, the machine made gurgling sounds and vomited out a handful of change.

I was next.  I used a credit card and the machine reported digitally that I had paid $6.50 for my three hours in the garage.  The woman behind me noticed.  “It’s gotten so expensive,” she complained. “It shouldn’t be so expensive.  It’s a town garage.”

“Of course, it’s expensive,” I said.  “What do you expect? We’re in Princeton.”  Then I rashly continued this line of discourse, channeling the economic observations of Richard D. Wolff. (You can find him on YouTube if you’re interested; he’s very funny while being dead serious. In my view, he’s also 95% right.)  “And why do you think your Princeton real estate taxes are so high?  Double what they are one county north of us!”

She was holding a box that from the look of it may have contained a small pizza.  She clutched it more tightly, as if I were about to suggest something subversive.  She was right.  I was.  But since she said nothing, I went on.

“It’s because of the university,” I said.  “Rich and famous Princeton University, a private educational institution that holds title to about a quarter of the real estate in the township and also owns millions and millions of invested dollars generating  more millions every year in unearned income — yet pays no real estate taxes at all, much less any state or federal tax on what its investments produce.  Who do you think is paying to run the town?” I went on. “Who is paying to send firemen to put out fires on campus and to deploy policemen for redirecting traffic while the university builds and builds? You are!  If Princeton University paid real estate taxes, our personal real estate taxes would drop way down, and yes  — the cost of tickets to park in this municipal garage would too.  If you think about it a slightly different way,” I concluded, “at least half the cost of your parking ticket is going into Princeton University’s pocket.

“But, but…” she sputtered as I turned towards the elevator.  “If there were no university, there wouldn’t be a need for the garage. And then where would we be?”

She hadn’t gotten it.  “Who said there wouldn’t be a university?” I exclaimed.  “Of course there would be.  It would just be paying its fair share like the rest of us, instead of getting richer and richer year after year. So it would grow a little more slowly. So what? Many of the rest of us wouldn’t be tsk-tsking in the garage, and pinching pennies to go on living in Princeton.

I didn’t know that woman.  I shall never see her again.  And I shouldn’t have said it. Imposing real estate taxes on private universities, colleges and posh secondary schools is not going to happen, at least in my lifetime, and what’s the point of talking about things that aren’t going to happen?  But as I rode up to the third floor where my eleven-year-old two-door Honda Civic was parked, I felt like a heroine. Perhaps the woman with the small pizza will remember what I said — if not the next time she parks, then the next time she gets hit with an installment of her annual real estate tax.  Great oaks from little acorns grow. Another cliche that’s true.

5 thoughts on “THE RICH GET RICHER

  1. Rita Stewart

    Well, pal Nina, you are reflecting on what happens on a national scale all the time….it’s folks like us who wind up footing the
    bill for a lot of things, because corporate America gets away with a lot of tax breaks that we don’t enjoy. Many of our super universities enjoy this as well…while the poor students are paying through the nose and get saddled with everlasting debt. I’m proud of you–you really said it like it is–it may not change much on a grand scale, but you may have caused one person to think a bit!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, pal Rita. It’s ridiculous that I should feel brave for having said what we all know (but just try not to focus on too often). I hope someone does think a bit after having read the post; I don’t really have much hope for the woman with the little pizza, as she didn’t seem to know what I was talking about.


  2. Well done! Have a glass of wine on me. A couple of weeks ago we parked at the expensive central parking in Cambridge UK. We went to see out bank manager about ways to look after our money. The one-hour meeting extended to more than four hours (form filling) and the car park charge was £25 or $38.54 (!@£$%^&*).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am not optimistic about changing other people’s points of views, nor about the rich not getting richer. We’ll get back to some kind of New Deal next time we get back to some kind of new Great Depression, and it becomes necessary to prop up the working/consuming clases so that they can continue to buy products they don’t need etc.

    Meanwhile, it is certainly a good diversion to read and write, and I enjoyed the piece! (And the recommendation of Wolff, and the old car.)

    One of my outstanding wonderings about the Princetons of the world. They always have a few leftwing profs and publish a few leftwing books that would seem to challenge the status quo that they represent and whose (all-too-money-and-power-obsessed) corporate class they educate/credential. So what are those leftish moments about? A self-indulgence? Diversionary tactic?

    Best, Wm. Eaton, Montaigbakhtinian

    Liked by 1 person

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