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As 'Corporate Bribery' Lands Amazon HQ2 in Queens, Ocasio-Cortez Says 'Outrage' Best Describes Community Response

The idea that Amazon "will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks at a time when our subway is crumbling and our communities need more investment, not less, is extremely concerning to residents here."

CEO and founder of Amazon Jeff Bezos participates in a discussion during a Milestone Celebration dinner September 13, 2018 in Washington, DC. Economic Club of Washington celebrated its 32nd anniversary at the event. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

After a year-long race-to-the-bottom competition to determine which city and state lawmakers would most subserviently grovel at its feet and offer the most generous taxpayer-funded gifts, Amazon on Monday reportedly chose Queens, New York and the Northern Virginia suburb of Crystal City as the split locations for its second headquarters, sparking anger among those who believe the online retailer will drive up already soaring housing prices and worsen unsustainable inequality.

"We shouldn't be giving billions away to one of the biggest companies in the world when our schools are already at capacity and our transit crumbling across the region."
—Alex Howe, Democratic Socialists of America

"We've been getting calls and outreach from Queens residents all day about this," Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) wrote in a Twitter thread late Monday. "The community's response? Outrage."

Highlighting Amazon's enormous size and wealth—the company recently reached a trillion dollars in market value—Ocasio-Cortez added that the "idea that it will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks at a time when our subway is crumbling and our communities need more investment, not less, is extremely concerning to residents here."

Amazon's search for a second home (HQ2) on top of its current headquarters in Seattle—where the company has successfully crushed efforts by city lawmakers to impose a small tax to fight homelessness—set off what the New York Times described as a "frenzied bidding war," which produced such debasing stunts as New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's suggestion that he would be willing change his name to "Amazon Cuomo" to secure the company's presence in his state.

In addition to the public pronouncements of city and state officials, lawmakers have also been negotiating with Amazon behind closed doors and offering tax incentives that have not faced public scrutiny.

"Every year, American cities and states spend up to $90 billion in tax breaks and cash grants to urge companies to move among states. That's more than the federal government spends on housing, education, or infrastructure."
—Derek Thompson, The Atlantic

Amazon—which is headed by Jeff Bezos, the world's richest man—is expected to officially announce the HQ2 locations on Tuesday, but it is unclear if any details of the deals with Queens and Crystal City will be made public.

According to one report, Cuomo offered Amazon hundreds of millions of dollars in state subsidies to set up shop in Queens.

"Citizens have no idea what their elected officials have promised to a company headed by the richest person on earth," Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First, noted in a statement last week. "We don't know what special new subsidies have been promised that will require state or local enactments. We don't know if gentrification buffers—especially affordable housing—are included. We don't know if clawbacks or other safeguards are included. We don't know the cost per job. But we do know that both deals were negotiated in secret, without any public input."

Some of the taxpayer-funded incentive packages that were made public during the "bidding process" were eye-popping: According to the Washington Post, Maryland offered $8.5 billion and Newark offered $7 billion.

"We shouldn't be giving billions away to one of the biggest companies in the world when our schools are already at capacity and our transit crumbling across the region," Alex Howe of the Metro D.C. branch of the Democratic Socialists of America said in a statement. "We must hold a genuine process of community input and enact strict safeguards, such as a significant annual contribution toward a community land trust, to make sure HQ2 doesn't displace our existing communities and increase already rampant inequality."

Derek Thompson, staff writer for The Atlantic, argued on Monday that lawmakers' efforts to lure Amazon to their states constitutes a form of "corporate bribery" that is deeply harmful to the public and should be banned outright by Congress.

"Every year, American cities and states spend up to $90 billion in tax breaks and cash grants to urge companies to move among states. That's more than the federal government spends on housing, education, or infrastructure," Thompson notes. "And since cities and states can't print money or run steep deficits, these deals take scarce resources from everything local governments would otherwise pay for."

"Corporate America is getting all the help it doesn't need," Thompson concluded. "You and I may not like it. But executives such as Jeff Bezos have no reason to care. They are winning by the rules of a broken game."

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