review of some of the bids to woo Amazon’s HQ2 to other cities and
states shows it’s not all about the money. In some cases democracy
itself is a bargaining chip.
rising worry that corporations are taking over America. But after
reviewing a slew of the bids by cities and states wooing Amazon’s
massive second headquarters, I don’t think “takeover” quite captures
what’s going on.
month Amazon announced
it got 238 offers for its new, proposed
50,000-employee HQ2. I set out to see what’s in them, but only about
30 have been released so far under public-record acts.
30, though, amply demonstrate our capitulation to corporate influence
in politics. There’s a new wave, in which some City Halls seem willing
to go beyond just throwing money at Amazon. They’re turning over the
keys to the democracy.
from the home of the largest corporate tax-break package in U.S.
our state gave to Boeing, I figured I was well acquainted with
the dark arts of economic-incentive deals.
still I was surprised to see the lengths to which some cities and
states will go to get a piece of that high-tech glory.
Chicago has offered to let Amazon pocket
$1.32 billion in income taxes paid by its own
workers. This is truly perverse. Called a personal income-tax
diversion, the workers must still pay the full taxes, but instead of
the state getting the money to use for schools, roads or whatever,
Amazon would get to keep it all instead.
result is that workers are, in effect, paying taxes to their boss,”
says a report
on the practice from Good Jobs First, a think
tank critical of many corporate subsidies.
of the HQ2 bids had more traditional sweeteners. Such as Chula Vista,
California, which offered to give Amazon 85 acres of land for free
(value: $100 million) and to excuse any property taxes on HQ2 for 30
years ($300 million). New Jersey remains the dollar king of the
subsidy sweepstakes, having offered Amazon $7 billion to build in
more of a bellwether to me are proposals that effectively would put
Amazon inside the government.
are small. Boston
has offered to set up an “Amazon Task Force”
of city employees working on the company’s behalf. These would include
a workforce coordinator, to help with Amazon’s employment needs, as
well as a community- relations official to smooth over Amazon
conflicts throughout Boston. (Surely Amazon can handle these things
the most far-reaching
offer is from Fresno, California. That city of
half a million isn’t offering any tax breaks. Instead it has a novel
plan to give Amazon special authority over how the company’s taxes are
promises to funnel 85 percent of all taxes and fees generated by
Amazon into a special fund. That money would be overseen by a board,
half made up of Amazon officers, half from the city. They’re supposed
to spend the money on housing, roads and parks in and around Amazon.
proposal shows a park with a sign: “This park brought to you by
Amazon,” with the company’s smiling arrow corporate logo.
community fund projects would give Amazon credit for the funding of
each project,” the proposal says. “The potential negative impacts from
a project would be turned into positives, giving Amazon credit for
it even legal to give a company direct sway over civic spending like
asked about it, Fresno’s economic-development director threw the
public interest under the bus.
than the money disappearing into a civic black hole, Amazon would have
a say on where it will go,” he told
the Los Angeles Times. “Not for the fire department on the
fringe of town, but to enhance their own investment in Fresno.”
poor fools out on the fringe of town. All this time you’ve been paying
your taxes, thinking it was for the broader public good. Suckers.
we’ve got Congress slashing corporate taxes, business cash
overwhelming elections and the Federal Communications Commission
poised to turn
control of the internet over to a few private companies. Now
a single company is viewed as such a shiny prize that some seem ready
to wave the white flag on the whole “for the people, by the people”
feels like a dicey moment for the “civic black hole.“ Also known as