Do we need Amazon?
Gov. Andrew Cuomo says that we do.
Is he right?
Or is he exaggerating?
The governor was so intent on luring Amazon to New York with a lavish and eye-popping package of incentives that it probably never occurred to him that there would be a backlash to the arrangement.
And yet here were are, months after the $3.3 billion deal was announced, and the discontent hasn’t abated.
If anything, it’s grown.
It’s grown so much that, according to the Washington Post, Amazon is now reconsidering its decision to build a big new East Coast headquarters in Queens.
Among other things, the company is frustrated by the appointment of state Sen. Michael Gianaris — a vocal critic of the deal — to the Public Authorities Control Board, which has the power to block the Amazon deal.
And it would appear Cuomo — who once said he would change his name to Amazon Cuomo if it would convince the tech behemoth to build its second headquarters in New York — shares this frustration.
“For the state Senate to oppose Amazon was governmental malpractice,” Cuomo grumbled, at a press conference in Long Island on Friday. “And if they stop Amazon from coming to New York, they’re going to have the people of New York state to explain it to. It is irresponsible to allow political opposition to overcome sound government policy.”
Why, it’s almost as if the governor can’t quite fathom that anyone would dare question what he obviously viewed as a major coup — getting Amazon to locate in New York City.
It’s rare for anyone to question the economic development deals the governor and his staff routinely facilitate behind closed doors, and the fact that those opposed to the Amazon deal won’t shut up is clearly getting on Cuomo’s nerves.
Let’s be clear: The opposition to Amazon is perfectly reasonable.
It’s nothing if not reasonable for people to wonder whether giving a company owned by the world’s wealthiest man, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, billions of dollars in taxpayer money is a good investment for a state facing shortfall.
It’s nothing if not reasonable to ask what benefits the average person reaps from such ridiculous corporate welfare — and to suggest that maybe there’s a better way of doing things.
But it’s interesting — and noteworthy, I think — that the governor finds political opposition so objectionable.
He speaks of it as something that, in an ideal world, wouldn’t exist, rather than the natural consequence of living in a diverse society with lots of different people with different ideas.
Frankly, it’s nice to see the state Legislature exercising some independence, rather than rushing to do whatever the governor thinks it ought to do. It’s nice to see New Yorkers organize in response to the Amazon deal, rather than throw their hands up in defeat.
In a functioning democracy, there’s nothing unusual about this kind of opposition.
In a functioning democracy, this kind of opposition is par for the course.
Of course, the 25,000 jobs Amazon would bring to New York City is nothing to sneeze at.
And maybe, if those jobs were headed to the Southern Tier or some other depressed part of the state, the subsidies Cuomo promised Amazon might seem more reasonable.
But they’re not.
They’re headed to New York City, which is thriving.
Which might explain why New York City residents appear to be wising up to the fact that jobs aren’t the only things that matter. Quality of life and affordability matter, too, and the booming downstate economy has left a lot of people behind.
You need only look at Seattle to see that Amazon will likely make New York City even less affordable than it is now, while also fueling the city’s growing homeless population.
As Gianaris wrote last week in an op-ed in USA Today, “In an era of historic income inequality, granting massive subsidies to a very wealthy corporation does not mean we were smart: It means we were played.”
I’d be shocked if Amazon pulled out of New York — the New York City metropolitan area is where the company wants to be — but it will certainly be interesting to see how this situation plays out.
The fight over Amazon is a healthy fight to have, and the groundswell of opposition to the state’s dubious approach to economic development is a healthy turn of events.
New York doesn’t need Amazon, no matter how much the governor or anyone else tries to convince us otherwise.
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.