Foss: Amazon deal is too costly

Jeff Bezos took New York to the cleaners

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo joked that he’d change his name to Amazon Cuomo if it would convince the tech behemoth to build its second headquarters in New York, I rolled my eyes. 

“What is it about Amazon that makes every elected official in America behave like a contestant on ‘The Voice’?” I asked, referring to the reality TV show in which singers compete for a recording contract.

This was, I now realized, a really unkind remark: The average “Voice” contestant conducts him or herself with far more dignity than Cuomo and all the other elected officials turned into willing dupes by the world’s richest man, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. 

Bezos took New York to the cleaners, convincing the state to lavish an obscene package of incentives on the Seattle-based company in exchange for building what was once described as its second headquarters in Queens. 

I say once described because one of the revelations of Tuesday’s big announcement was that Amazon will actually split its second headquarters between two places, New York City and northern Virginia. 

I don’t know why Amazon didn’t just say that this was what it intended to do from the beginning, but I suspect it had something to do with driving up the value of the subsidies both states will provide. 

There’s nothing unusual about opening regional offices — what’s unusual is holding a national competition to site those offices and getting cities and states throughout America to submit secret plans revealing just how much they’re willing to give up to obtain the company’s services. 

They’re willing to give up a lot, of course, and anyone familiar with Cuomo’s economic development efforts (Buffalo Billion, anyone?) won’t be surprised by New York’s foolhardy and absurd generosity toward one of the world’s most valuable companies. 

Among the things taxpayers will help foot the bill for is a rooftop helipad. 

They’ll also provide $1.2 billion in tax credits over 10 years and $505 million in capital grants to repay Amazon’s construction costs over 15 years. 

Amazon has said that New York’s tax credits equate to $48,000 per job, but the company might be understating the case: According to the economic development watchdog group Good Jobs First, the actual cost might be closer to $112,000 per job. 

In a press release, the organization suggested that some of the subsidies going to Amazon have not been disclosed by the company. 

One such subsidy comes courtesy of New York City’s Relocation and Employment Assistance Program. “REAP gives companies a per-employee tax credit of $3,000 per year for up to 12 years, and Amazon projects hiring 25,000 employees.” That puts Amazon’s cost to REAP at around $897 million. 

These costs might be worth it if the average New Yorker stood to gain from Amazon’s New York City office. 

But it isn’t clear Amazon’s decision to locate in Queens will do anything other than drive up housing costs in a city that is increasingly unaffordable.

The jobs being created are more likely to go to tech workers from other parts of the country than the New Yorkers who are going to be priced out of their neighborhoods and homes. Amazon’s presence in Seattle has contributed to a skyrocketing cost of living, with no relief in sight. 

Those of us who reside in upstate New York are unlikely to experience any impact from Amazon, unless you consider the massive bill we’re all going to wind up paying. 

At heart, the Amazon deal is another example of the rich — Jeff Bezos, New York City — getting richer and the rest of us not getting much of anything at all.

Yes, Amazon is coming to New York. 

But the cost is high, and it will be borne by taxpayers. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.                

Categories: News, Opinion

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