In both principle and in policy, the Amazon HQ2 deal is the wrong approach for economic development in New York state.
We all want job growth. We all want to attract new businesses. But above all else, we need to be responsible stewards of taxpayers’ money and prudent about how we distribute public funds.
In September, Amazon’s corporate value reached $1 trillion. Between October 2017 and 2018, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos personally made $78 billion - more than $215 million a day.
Why is one nickel of taxpayer money being given to a company and a chief executive who can afford anything?
Forcing the highest-taxed people in the country to subsidize a welcome gift for the richest company and CEO on the planet is simply unacceptable.
When one takes into account that Virginia, also selected as home to Amazon’s headquarters, will pay less than half of New York’s incentive package, it’s not surprising that the deal has been met with widespread objection and skepticism.
Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio are claiming the state will bring in $27.5 billion in revenue over the next 25 years. They say that for every $1 invested, New York will get $9 back.
But these claims are based on job totals that Amazon isn’t required to fulfill, on workers who may never arrive in Queens, and on the premise that nothing was ever going to be developed on the site.
Spending taxpayers’ money shouldn’t be based on guesswork, and the governor’s return-on-investment record when it comes to job creation is anything but stellar:
• START-UP New York was going to be a game-changing job-creating effort but has performed so badly the administration tried to change its name.
• Buffalo Billion was labeled as a “transformative” initiative, but job estimates were quickly reduced and production at the solar panel facility has barely gotten off the ground.
• Upstate casinos were going to provide hundreds of millions in new revenue, but every facility fell short of projections and already approached the state for financial relief.
We are supposed to trust that hardworking taxpayers funding one of the world’s richest companies makes good financial sense. But that logic is severely flawed, and that trust hasn’t been earned.
As usual, taxpayers learned of their latest multibillion-dollar expenditure after the fact, with no legislative oversight or input. Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli would have been better suited to review the details of the Amazon deal.
New legislation in the Assembly would provide stronger oversight of taxpayer-funded projects, require a comprehensive review of economic development programs, and creates an advisory committee made up of the comptroller, attorney general and budget director to review requests and make conflict-of-interest determinations.
In addition to reforms, I encourage lawmakers to use whatever means possible to further scrutinize the Amazon deal and block unnecessary or wasteful expenditures associated with the agreement.
The governor’s economic development plans fall woefully short of expectations, have resulted in associates going to jail for corruption, and quite frankly, don’t seem designed to create any actual jobs. They are a tool used simply for the governor to curry favor with those he means to align himself with.
At the end of the day, the Amazon deal will likely go through. It should be the last of its kind that does. This is insulting, wasteful and inexcusable. Amazon doesn’t need your money; you do.
Brian Kolb is the Minority Leader in the State Assembly. He represents the 131st District in Upstate New York.