Parking Meter Plan Exhumed
| Apr 19, 2011 6:54 am
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Posted to: City Hall, City Budget
City lawmakers thought they had killed it. Even the mayor gave it up for dead. Now a group of aldermen, working closely with a company lobbyist, has unearthed and galvanized a disgraced parking meter monetization plan.
Five aldermen have signed on to a letter supporting a plan under which Gates Capital Partners, an Ohio-based investment firm, would receive a dedicated portion of the city’s parking meter revenue for 25 years, plus interest. The city would be on the hook for over $120 million. In exchange, the company would give pay the city $50 million up front.
The latest effort met resistance from an East Rock alderman and a budget watchdog, who called the plan “deeply irresponsible” and akin to a “payday loan.”
The monetization plan was first put forward more than a year ago, during last year’s budget season. It met an outpouring of opposition: Critics said the plan was a short-sighted quick-fix that would saddle the city with debt for years to come. The plan was eventually shelved.
Meanwhile, Gates continued to work to convince aldermen it was a good idea. The company hired Steve Mednick, a local attorney and former alderman, as a lobbyist.
In November, Alderman Justin Elicker put forward a resolution calling on the city to not spend any more time or resources considering monetization as an option. Eighteen of his colleagues signed on to the proposal, which has been sitting in front of the Board of Aldermen’s Finance Committee ever since.
By March, even the mayor seemed to have given up on monetization.
On April 6, the plan resurfaced. Representatives from Gates appeared before the Finance Committee to re-pitch the plan and rebut some of the arguments against it. They were there at the request of Alderman Yusuf Shah, the chair of the committee, who said the city’s dire fiscal outlook is prompting him to put all options back on the table.
On Thursday, Shah—along with Alderman Marcus Paca and Alderwoman Bitsie Clark—emailed a draft of the letter to their colleagues, calling on them to give monetization a second chance. By Monday morning, Aldermen Migdalia Castro and Tom Lehtonen had signed on.
Read the letter here.
There is conflicting information about the authorship of the letter, but it appears to bear the fingerprints of Gates’ lobbyist: The file information of the document emailed to aldermen on Thursday—signed by Paca, Shah, and Clark—lists “Steve Mednick” as the document’s author. The document’s “title,” however, is the first sentence of Elicker’s letter opposing monetization.
Mednick said he didn’t write the letter. Paca said he did. Mednick’s name “just happened to be on the back end of the file,” Paca said.
Paca said he wrote the first draft of the letter himself. As part of the process, Paca said, he corresponded with Mednick, who sent him talking points and different options for monetization.
Shah said he expects the Finance Committee to take up monetization at its May 3 meeting.
City parking meters, which cost $1.50 per hour, took in between $3.7 and $4.1 million in Fiscal Years ‘07-‘08, ‘08-‘09, and ‘09-‘10. The mayor’s budget for the next fiscal year predicts an intake of $5.2 million, as does the approved budget for the current fiscal year, which ends in June.
Just Like Buying A Microwave
Paca and Shah both acknowledged that the monetization plan is not an ideal solution to budget difficulties. But desperate times call for desperate measures, they argued.
Shah said he was inspired to revisit the idea after the February layoff of 82 city workers, including 16 rookie cops. “This made me, as the chair of the Finance Committee, say OK, stop the presses. Let’s review everything that’s out there.”
The monetization deal is simply a means of borrowing money, Shah said. “People do that everyday.” When you go to the store to buy a microwave oven and you don’t have the money, you use a credit card, he said. “This is no different than what we would be doing.”
If the city locks into a deal where it gives a certain amount of its meter revenue to Gates every year, it can always raise the rate at the meter to take in more money for itself, Shah said.
The city would retain control of its meters, and could even put in more meters to bring in more revenue, Shah said.
Shah said the city has run out of alternatives. “Is there a pot of gold under the skating rink? Can we dig it up? I mean, come on.”
Paca said the monetization plan need not be a $50 million deal paid off over 25 years. There are other options, he said, such as $25 million over 10 years.
The money wouldn’t go into a “slush fund” for any old purpose, Paca said. It would not go toward new expenses, he said. “The money is going to be specifically used for tax relief, that’s it.”
“This is all to do with what’s in the best interests of the city,” he said.
Passing The Buck
Alderman Elicker, who was at the April 6 meeting with Gates, said he didn’t hear anything new there, and remains opposed to monetization.
“People have been comparing it to a mortgage,” he said. But it’s not like a mortgage, he said. “In a mortgage, it’s your money. ... But it’s not our money.” Long after new aldermen and even a new mayor have been elected, the city would still be paying off the money from Gates, Elicker said.
“It’s an easy out for us,” he said. It’s a “deeply irresponsible decision to make. ... passing the buck down to future generations.”
“There must be a lot of money for Gates to gain, because they have been persistent,” Elicker said.
Elicker said laws prohibit cities from borrowing money to pay for general operating costs. They are allowed to borrow only for capital projects. Monetization is “basically a loophole” to get around the law, he said.
Jeffrey Kerekes, budget watchdog and founder of the New Haven Citizens Action Network, also called the plan a “loophole.”
“We’re basically borrowing money to pay for expenses,” he said. “It’s like a payday loan.”
There are laws against it because “it’s not sound fiscal policy,” he said. “How do you ever make any traction when you take a deal that you don’t have any money for?”
The way to provide tax relief is to make a list of priorities and “stop when the money runs out,” Kerekes said.
If the city is willing to raise parking meter rates to pay debt to Gates, then it should just raise rates to pay for operating expenses, Kerekes said.
While Paca and Shah claim authorship of the letter calling for reconsideration of the parking meter plan, the document’s file information paints a more confusing picture. The metadata associated with the file sent to aldermen on Thursday lists “Steve Mednick” as the file’s author. The “title” of the document, however, is the first sentence of Elicker’s November letter, calling on the city to cease consideration of the parking meter plan.
Elicker said he has no idea why his anti-monetization sentence is the title of the pro-monetization letter. “I’m certainly not involved in drafting the letter, mostly because I hate monetization.”
Shah said he worked with Paca to write the letter to aldermen calling for a reconsideration of monetization. He said he did it to share accurate information about monetization.
“In order to get my facts together I did consult with Gates through their attorney,” Shah said. “We didn’t work in a vacuum.”
Asked how Mednick’s name came to be recorded as the author of the document, Shah said he doesn’t know.
“Me and Marcus composed that letter, and anything else that’s out there is a rumor or a lie,” Shah said. “Marcus composed the first draft and Marcus ran it by me.”
“Steve did send me some information,” Paca said. Mednick sent him “bullet points” and “talking points,” Paca said. He said he and Mednick shared several types of emails and somehow his name ended up on the file that became the letter.
“I wrote that letter. Steve Mednick did not write that letter. I wrote that letter,” Paca said.
Mednick said he had shared information about monetization with aldermen.
“It’s possible that stuff we generated is in that letter,” Mednick said. “I did not write that letter.”
Long-Term Financial Health
On Monday, city spokesman Adam Joseph declined to endorse the monetization plan, instead deflecting attention to the city’s labor negotiations.
Monetization “doesn’t get us where we need to go in terms of the long term financial health of the city. The best thing we can do for the financial sustainability is to make modest changes to our pension and health care plans. That’s what we are working on.”
However, Joseph didn’t rule out the parking meter plan, either.
“If we can address our long term issues with pension and health care and in some cases work rules the City will be in a better financial position and decision on the need for monetization could be made at that time.”
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posted by: Atwater on April 19, 2011 7:55am
I think it is time to recall the entire Board of Alderman and have special elections so that we can get rid of the horrible representatives (and Mayor) currently sitting in the assembly.
posted by: Charlie O'Keefe on April 19, 2011 7:56am
The city’s finances must be worse than the mayor is telling us. I wish I knew how much taxes will go up in 2012 after the election. I expect they will double if we are lucky or treble if we’re not. The give away is Paca fronting the mayor. ... The BOA should make our spendthrift mayor sell his armoire. They should cut his pay to $50,000, or if it’s performance based make him pay to come to work. Only 3 new schools being built this year, and New Haven has too many so we’re now building them in West Haven. If we’re bankrupt already we might as well continue and really wreck the city. Total madness.
posted by: Carlos R on April 19, 2011 8:01am
Apparently no idea is too idiotic in the era of the Tea Party. Privatizing a revenue generating activity like parking enforcement is stupid on stupid. The Gates Corporation is taking advantage of the City’s desperation. They know good and well they will make a fortune in the long term- at the expense of New Haven taxpayers, who will lose out on 25 years of positive revenue.
That this bottom-feeding corporation is actually getting a hearing from the Board of Aldermen is embarrassing. Thanks to Alderman Elicker and the others who showed the courage to attempt to kill this plan. Don’t give up the fight!
posted by: robn on April 19, 2011 8:04am
Nice snooping Tom,
If Mednick is listed as the documents author, then the document was created on his PC. The only conceivable reason that he might cut and paste the content of an Alderman’s doc or e-mail into his doc would be heavy revision (which might as well be authorship).
posted by: permawash on April 19, 2011 8:06am
Shouldn’t articles on parking meter monetization feature data about current annual gross & net revenues from the parking meters? You are leaving out the most important piece of information.
posted by: ASL on April 19, 2011 8:15am
There’s no easy fix, people. There’s no magic pot of money that will prevent changes to the way we compensate public sector employees. We can maintain high quality health care and reasonable, baseline pensions without paying out six figure pensions, raises in years where private sector employees are just happy to be employed and and “cadillac” health insurance plans (yes, they do exist). The sooner we come to terms with that, the better.
I respect some of these alders, I don’t much respect others. But, to borrow a phrase from our governor, let me be very clear. As a young parent, who plans to be in this City for longer than the next 5 minutes, this plan is utterly unacceptable and I will contribute to the campaign of any alder who runs against it or anyone who runs against someone who votes for it.
posted by: Noteworthy on April 19, 2011 8:25am
This is a deeply flawed, irresponsible plan that like so many payday loaners, rent to own scams and others that prey on the poor. Just hearing Paca/Shah describe our fiscal issues as “desperate” - this is music to the ears of Gates and their hired gun. Desperate people make stupid decisions that get them out of a bind in the short term and strangle them in the long term. Can this idea.
It is disappointing that the plan to kill this bad idea was permanently tabled by Shah. That’s an abuse of power. And because he abused his power as Chairman, we are now going to waste more time and resources on a bad idea and more fiscal irresponsibility. If Shah and fellow alders had exercised some discretion and good judgement over the last 5 years of this budget, we wouldn’t be here.
As for authoring the letter - having read this, I don’t believe any of the signers wrote it. At very least, whole sections were lifted from Gates’ gun. At best, sentences were plagiarized. To claim otherwise is not plausible.
posted by: Brian v on April 19, 2011 8:33am
This is a horrible idea.
If you don’t have the money, STOP SPENDING. Don’t subsidize bad fiscal policy with more bad fiscal policy.
These alders should be ashamed of themselves for even considering it after a majority told them to stop considering it. But obviously, there is no shame in their game.
The lobbyist wrote his own proposal! SHAMELESS.
Way to go Justin Elicker!
posted by: roger huzendubel on April 19, 2011 8:36am
like the alderman said, gates has been ambitious because its like shooting fish in a barrel for them. Yes the city needs money and this temporary fix with a long lasting repercussions is not the way. this impacts the citys future. If we choose to do this how much say does gates have in raising rates? I also work for an investment firm and know what an easy score this is for them. If the city is honestly considering this then i do believe we are SCREWED.
posted by: jack on April 19, 2011 8:45am
Parking Meter rates are too expensive (also inflating rapidly) and the ticketing is way overzealous as it is. I don’t fault the ticket writers themselves, but the system they work for is on crack.
posted by: streever on April 19, 2011 9:01am
This is a terrible and short-sighted plan.
posted by: streever on April 19, 2011 9:04am
Clearly, Paca worked off a template provided by Mednick—that is the only reason why Mednick’s name would be there.
Very disappointing that he would claim to have done it himself.
Kerekes has intelligently and articulately explained why this is such a bad proposal, as have many other residents.
The alders who believe this is “like buying a microwave” are correct. You do not need a microwave, you do not have money for a microwave, and yet, you take out a loan which you know you can’t pay back, and then guess what?
The credit agency comes and takes away your microwave, and you owe more money.
Great comparison. That is exactly what you want our city to do.
posted by: Anon on April 19, 2011 9:17am
The metadata speaks for itself. I hope these alders get a good meal, at minimum, for selling out their constituents.
posted by: Fairhaven Dave on April 19, 2011 9:36am
A private company hired a local lawyer to talk Aldermen into a $50 million patch for our budget gap? How very Washington D.C. of us! Go New Haven! Stepping up with the big boys! Unghhhh…
Love the zombie graphic and title. Unbiased media at its finest.
posted by: Our Town on April 19, 2011 9:40am
There really isn’t any way to describe this continuing bizarre theatre. The mayor’s lackeys resurrect the dead and you’re arguing over who actually put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). I really don’t care which of the puppets claim authorship (they all should be denying it in my mind).
The only issue is the lack of any semblance of intelligent thought displayed by these elected officials. I don’t often agree with Elicker, but he is the only one quoted here that displays any wisdom, and he’s probably the youngest of the lot. The others should check with the puppeteer to see if they’re allowed to say anything else.
posted by: Brian M. on April 19, 2011 9:54am
I think I say this every time there’s an article on this, but the issue won’t die, so I’ll say it again:
This is a terrible idea. Everywhere else that it’s been done, it’s been a disaster. Just read about Chicago’s experience. You are handing off control of parking to a private company without any public accountability.
And if you allow it to happen this way - with alders secretly working hand-in-hand with the company - you can be sure that you’ll never get any accountability. There will always be a set of alders whose votes are controlled by this company who will kill any attempt to examine or scrutinize the company’s actions.
The outcome can’t be good once the process has been corrupted - willingly! - by elected officials.
How about a follow-up on how much these alders have gotten - or been promised - by Gates? They’re not doing this out of the goodness of their hearts.
posted by: Pedro Soto on April 19, 2011 9:57am
The “authorship” of the letter is a distracting non-issue. File created title names can show up for many reasons. Mr. Mednik could have simply copied and pasted the letter into a new Word doc while adding his thoughts, causing his name to be attached.
That being said, what IS the issue is that monetization is trying to sneak through the back door.
This is a TERRIBLE deal for the city of New Haven and, most egregiously in my opinion, kicks the structural problems that new haven has down the curb and forces citizens and administrations for the next twenty years to pay for one administrations decisions.
This would be as if Mayor Destefano was paying for something that the DANIELS administration had gotten into in 1991.
Think about how many things this administration would not have been able to do had they been saddled with multi-million dollar payments to a private equity firm over that time.
A company like Gates Capital wouldn’t be doing this deal if it weren’t a slam dunk for them and a loser for us.
posted by: anon on April 19, 2011 9:59am
Yet another example of public assets being converted into private wealth.
The public is selling off everything, primarily to benefit the top 1% of the population, which controls 40% of our nation’s wealth.
If the city wants to raise the rates, do it. Paying another company first shouldn’t be the reason why.
posted by: cba on April 19, 2011 10:06am
why are the elected representatives of the people being led around by a special interest lobbyist ?
posted by: FacChec on April 19, 2011 10:16am
According to the most recent city monthly report(Feb) parking meter receipts budgeted for fiscal year 2010/11 = 5.2M.
The current year to date actual is 1.1M behind budget.
At the same time the city is collecting personal and property taxes at 98.5%.
Therefore with no other collection options remaining, the city has fronted Shah and Paca to create a diversion by resurrecting this dead and buried horror story.
Why the diversion you ask..? here’s my take…
Well, after the money plan was held up by a majority of the BOA, they(BOA) then passed a budget this year with a 8M dollar hole in it.
The city created a fictitious line item called Innovation based budgeting. The IBB was to find savings throughout the city budget in order to smoke screen the 8M intended as receipts from the Monetization plan.
Nine months into the budget year, the deficit remains, to the rescue comes Shah and Paca, while the Mayor takes the high ground declaring that he does not support the monetization, but continues to support privatization as the primary preferred method to balance the budget.
Shah and Paca unknowingly are set up to take the fall should monetization fail once more.
If it succeeds, the Mayor takes the credit.
If Shah were really looking for options to put on the table, he would have to look no further than cutting the Mayor’s wild spending habits, such as halting new school construction,(west haven); the 7M bonding required next fiscal year for the RT 34 to nowhere for WinStanley.
The current proposed $550K, recently approved by his finance committee, for all things, up grading all meters in central downtown to credit card receipts.
If Shah and Paca want to spend their time justifying that they wrote this stupid redundant letter, rather than creating their own ideas about spending cuts, then it speaks volumes about their inability to lead and their continued willingness to follow.
posted by: Brian M. on April 19, 2011 10:21am
The simplest answer to that question is that they’re allowing themselves to be led by a lobbyist in exchange for - well, something.
posted by: streever on April 19, 2011 10:49am
The most exceptionally frustrating aspect of this failed plan to monetize is that some alders have already explained how to monetize without putting us into a long-term debt relationship.
The monetization plans have failed in every municipality they have been tried in for any significant period of time.
Dynamic parking, however, has succeeded where it has been implemented, and it is the policy several aldermen have advocated for closing budget holes and increasing revenues.
I believe Elicker, Lemar, Smith, and Jones at the very least have suggested the idea repeatedly, and am sure other alders also have proposed it.
Why aren’t Shah & Paca spending their time working on implementing a proven method of increasing revenue on parking meters, and instead focusing on a plan pushed by a company which stands to gain a significant sum of money?
I believe the answer is that the Mayor is pushing for them to do so, because he has a hard time admitting when one of his ideas is a stinker, and an exceptionally hard time allowing anyone else to have a good idea which he can’t claim some credit for.
Do I need to post specific examples of this, or can I make the assumption that my fellow citizens have noticed this really disturbing trend?
posted by: Real Obvious on April 19, 2011 11:07am
With Saturday parking fees introduced 2 weeks ago on more downtown streets its real obvious this deal has been going forward behind the scenes. So goodbye to you, downtown businesses. It will be too expensive to visit you. I can just see it when this investment company takes over the meters. $5 for 15 minutes. Downtown will be a ghost town in weeks. Rusconi should be under investigation for what he’s doing.
posted by: Scot on April 19, 2011 11:26am
If we can’t balance a budget today with the parking meter revenue, how are we going to do it 10 years from now when we will no longer have that revenue?! What will be different? This is really bad fiscal policy. We need to either cut spending or increase taxes. Trading a future revenue stream to pay for today’s budget is just wrong. We are just digging ourselves into a deeper hole.
posted by: Scot on April 19, 2011 11:33am
The microwave analogy is terrible. Just because people buy microwaves on their credit card doesn’t mean its a good idea. If you dont have the ability to pay off the credit card, either today or in the very near future, you dont buy the microwave. If they want to fix the budget gap now by selling a future revenue stream, what is their plan for balancing the budget in future years without that revenue? do they plan to have major layoffs next year, or two years from now? will they increase taxes 20% the next few years? At what point does the spending match the revenue?
posted by: Drone on April 19, 2011 12:04pm
Any truth in the rumor the City and the Police & Fire pension plans have made big invstments in Gates Capital Partners?
posted by: ToNHI on April 19, 2011 12:11pm
We have some brilliant minds here in our backyard. I would love to hear the opinions of some of the heads of the Yale SOM, the Economics Dept, someone like David Swensen, etc. Perhaps the NHI could find some third-party financial experts to provide their opinions about this idea.
posted by: Bill Saunders on April 19, 2011 1:57pm
The creeping hand is my absolute favorite graphic you have ever used on a news story. At some of those old B-movies, they also used to pass out barfbags! Stock Up, New Haven…...
posted by: nostra-ville on April 19, 2011 2:46pm
Please do not forget that Mednick is a past campaign manager for the Mayor. He is an inside lobbyist. The Mayor’s office probably directed him to work with these weakest links on the BOA. Shah and Castro work for the city - kinda hard to say no to your boss. The Alders’ clumsy handling of correspondence is relevant - it shows how inexperienced and usable some of them are. And that they do not have original ideas.
Ultimately though, this is the Mayor’s game—he’ll push hard on bad ideas just to win his way. And don’t count on Yale’s expertise, the faculty is quite diverse, and you could probably find “experts” to argue any side of this issue. But Yale’s policy, as a developer, is to work with the city on what it wants, so that anything they want will not be harmed. Any Yale expert vetted by Bruce Alexander would never contradict or oppose the Mayor in public.
I hope the good Aldermen who put the monetization plan in the waste basket on round one prevail again. Practice makes perfect.
posted by: Elaine Braffman on April 19, 2011 6:56pm
I would hope that the majority of the alder-people stick to their guns and vote this down! As a taxpayer we cannot afford to mortgage this city’s future any further. Look…what would 50 million do? It is just more money to spend. This money and all the money in the world does and will not address the real problem of ongoing spending within this city that has…will… and still continues.
posted by: SalConsiglio Jr. on April 19, 2011 7:18pm
Once again old Johnny boy is at it selling us on the idea that the sky is falling when it is not. Go ahead and privatize and when the fecal matter hits the fan we are going to hold you and the board responsible.I don’t see the top administrators taking pay cuts or benefit cuts . I don’t see you trying to consolidate some schools to save money all I see is the same scare tactics. Here is a deficit it is your’s, you and your administration created it and you should be the first to sacrifice to eliminate it not the people who do the work everyday. Your nine terms are up and you have got no more bridges to sell.The taxpayers of this city have finally smartened up and the vote come November is going to prove this. Lay off more hard working people come July 1st.. -Hey you might as well go down in flames Mr. Mayor.You are making it much more easy for me to win your Job,So far I have not had to lift a finger you are doing just fine ,Thank you Keep up the good work!
posted by: David Cameron on April 19, 2011 8:00pm
This letter, which may or may not have been drafted by the Gates Capital representative, misrepresents the opposition to last year’s version of this plan and - not surprisingly - omits the most important information about the plan.
Last year’s opponents did not oppose the plan because it resembled the Chicago plan. The opponents objected because the plan would require the city to pay Gates $122 million over 25 years in exchange for $50 million, payable immediately.
At least last year the city made public the relevant documents of the proposed lease-leaseback arrangement so the public could see not only what the city would receive but what it would have to repay, year by year over the next 25 years.
The alders who wish to resurrect this plan should make public immediately the schedule of annual payments over the 25 years - a schedule similar to the one presented in Exhibit H on page 63 of last year’s proposed Sublease. Unless and until they do that, this should be regarded as nothing more than a disingenuous effort by a small group of alders to lobby on Gates’ behalf.
posted by: Elaine Braffman on April 19, 2011 8:48pm
Right on target David C…
posted by: first observer on April 19, 2011 9:18pm
It is time—in this election year—for voters to DEMAND that the mayor state publicly and unequivocally that he now personally OPPOSES any further attempt to monetize parking meter fees, and that he will NOT implement such a plan, even if the Board of Alderman, in some appalling lapse of judgment, supports one.
He will never do this, of course, so the only alternative is to absolutely refuse to vote for him.
posted by: Nate on April 20, 2011 9:25am
I said this before and I’ll say it again, if they sell New Haven’s parking meter revenue to a private party, I won’t bother going downtown anymore. As is, going shopping in the suburbs (Hamden, North Haven, etc) is usually easier since you don’t need to worry about finding or paying for parking, but I don’t mind going downtown now since I know every quarter ends up helping the city. If those quarters are going elsewhere then forget it.
posted by: to Atwater on April 20, 2011 10:24am
I second that motion. Yusef Shah, Paca, Clark are either disingenuous or just don’t have the intellectual wherewithal to make informed decisions. Attention Citizens: pay attention & get involved.
posted by: Edgehood on April 21, 2011 4:57am
The state has laws against this type of municipal spending for good reasons. Such a plan really shouldn’t be considered at all…
However, if Gates Capital Partners really wants to sink fifty-million dollars into some high rate annuity with New Haven, I am sure that they can be accommodated with an acceptable alternative deal. We could replace the UI streetlights with the modern solar and wind power streetlights that feed back into the grid. New Haven doesn’t owe UI any favors, which is good, because they will go from getting paid by the city to paying the city. We could get the upfront cash from Gates Capital, plus pay a reduced rate for all that power. The city splits the difference from the old electric bill with Gates Partners over twenty years, then the city owns it. (I’m sure that the city could find some incentives from the state and federal governments, too…!!) Why take a bad idea when there are so many good ones available…??
More info on revenue generating, smart-grid tied, wind and solar powered streetlights here (made in USA…!!)...
posted by: anon on April 21, 2011 9:07am
I agree with Nate. I will no longer shop downtown or pay the meters if I know that the revenue is going into the hands of the wealthy elite. Over 95% of financial wealth, like the Gates Capital equity, is owned by a tiny minority of the U.S. population. I do not want to support that.