What’s Up With U.S. Transfer Taxes in 2013?

Nobody knows. Congress has yet to take up the issue of extending or amending the current law, which is set to expire on December 31. If no legislation is forthcoming, then the lifetime exemption will fall to a million dollars, presumably ensnaring a large swath of the upper middle class– and even some of the house-poor or farm-poor in places that have seen property values skyrocket over the last generation. Simultaneously, the top rate on taxable assets will jump to 55 percent. The smart money is on some kind of legislative action after the election. My suspicion is that Congress will remain split, and the exemption will come down from its current $5.12M, but will still be set high enough to avoid hitting the vast majority of taxpayers. Beth Cohn has a nice overview of the current legal framework, and possible 2013 scenarios, over at JD Supra.

‘Yes’ on More Humane Farming Practices

The Star-Ledger has an op-ed by Peter Singer and Paul Shapiro in support of a bill (A-3250) that is working its way through the New Jersey General Assembly. The law would ban the use of gestation crates for pigs on New Jersey farms. The companion bill passed the Senate in June, 35-1. According to the authors, similar laws are already on the books throughout Europe, and in nine other American states. Seems like a step in the right direction.

Medical Marijuana: A Dim Green Light

The New Jersey Department of Health is now signing up patients for the state’s newly minted medical marijuana program. The state law that established the framework for the program (N.J.S.A. 24:6I-1, et seq.) was signed by Gov. Jon Corzine in the last days of his outgoing administration, in early 2010. As LT has noted, the program has since been implemented with painful slowness by Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, and has also been subjected to a broad array of land-use obstacles from municipal authorities, as well. (Viz., although six dispensaries have been approved, in theory, only two have yet secured retail space: one in Montclair; and another in Egg Harbor, which is near Atlantic City.)

Update, 8/26: A third location has been secured on U.S. 1 in Woodbridge.

The Lost Public Baths of New York City

Like Caracalla and Diocletian, the mayors of New York City once also built large public baths– and for many of the same reasons that the emperors had. Michael Minn has a nice survey of the major facilities on his New York page. In the late Victorian period, at the end of the 19th century, industrial Gotham was as much a concentration of unwashed humanity as parts of ancient Rome had been, and many of the city’s residential units were just as lacking in indoor plumbing as those of the ancient world. Something had to be done. New York City’s public baths were less elaborate than those of the Romans: Their interiors were not destined to become lasting architectural marvels; nor were they divided into caldaria, tepidaria, and frigidaria; nor built to impress the city’s rich denizens. Nonetheless, public baths were a significant investment in the city’s urban infrastructure, and evidence of these facilities remains.

In the summers, when the need was highest, the pubic baths of New York City were complemented by public swimming pools and beaches. (Minn describes this at his page, above.) But by the early 20th century, the building code required inclusion of bathrooms in new units, and, over time, the city’s older buildings caught up. Subways and cars also allowed people to commute with minimal exertion and perspiration. Accordingly, the baths closed and the swimming facilities became almost purely recreational. Given today’s worries about carbon and street congestion, I wonder if there might be a new role for some range of public bathing facilities that would allow more people to walk or ride bicycles over longer urban distances— and still arrive presentably.

It’s interesting to see how many echoes of the Classical world coursed through the city-building patterns of America in the late Victorian period. Another oddball bath-related example from New York City is the architecture of the 168th Street IRT subway station (now more than a century old), and its uncanny resemblance– in tile-work, passageways, and barrel-vaulted ceilings— to the internal chambers of ancient Roman baths. Other stations of the same era also borrowed Roman bath elements, though usually more subtly. Presumably, the Beaux-Arts reverence of Classical design had a lot to do with these kinds of echoes: Graeco-Roman elements turn up often in the urban relics of a century ago. Modernists found the echoes of the ancient past too rigid, and in some ways they were. But they also provided a valuable framework and common vocabulary for city-building, and their use invested a long period of our urban architecture with symbolism of the longer cultural traditions to which its builders adhered.