As you’re doing your holiday shopping this season, think about this: While big brand names travel hither, thither and yon to play Milk the Taxpayer, Amazon is totally rewriting the rules of the taxpayer subsidies game, super-sizing their piles of public money without even having to go door to door.
In September, the $136-billion-a-year, multi-tentacled monopolist sparked a prairie fire of excitement among state and local economic development officials when it coyly announced its intention to build a second corporate headquarters in Someplace, North America.
CEO Jeff Bezos baited his location-subsidy trap with red meat, announcing that Amazon “expect[ed] to invest over $5 billion in construction and grow this second headquarters to include as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs.”
Then Bezos & Co. made a bold move: They sat still and waited. Stretching corporate overreach to new lengths, the Amazonian royals bid public officials to approach the Seattle throne with all the jewels, bars of gold, frankincense, myrrh and any other tribute they could muster to show their worthiness for HQ2 (Amazon’s name for the proposed co-headquarters). In one stroke, Amazon switched its corporate role from asker to askee and instantly pitted taxpayers, like you and me, across Mexico, Canada and the U.S. against each other in a no-limit bidding war.
Amazon then issued a seven-page directive listing some specific “incentives” that each supplicant should offer. First was a “business-friendly environment.” Then, urging hopefuls to “think big” when offering freebies, the directive listed specific incentives that would be “Decision Drivers,” including contributions of “land, site preparation, tax credits/exemptions, relocation grants, workforce grants, utility incentives/grants, and fee reductions.”
Oh, and also a highly-educated labor pool; an international airport with direct daily flights to key cities; quality of life where “our employees will enjoy living”; and, most important, “elected officials eager and willing to work with the company.”
Ha! Officials from 238 cities, regions, and states have so far rushed to Bezos’ corporate castle to grovel, dance, beg, and stage dog-and-pony spectacles in the perverse hope that Amazon might choose their taxpayers to rip off.
- Tucson showed its love by shipping Amazon’s prickly CEO a 21-foot Saguaro cactus.
- New York City lit up the Empire State Building and other iconic landmarks in Amazon Orange.
- Seattle, already a company town, pleaded with His Majesty Bezos to locate HQ2 adjacent to HQ1.
- Stonecrest, Georgia, voted to annex 35 acres to create a new city to be named – yes – Amazon.
All this for a tacky PR stunt with one purpose: To get the handful of actual contenders to jack up their offers. Amazon’s data-driven, hard-nosed “economic development department,” set up five years ago, will decide among the few locations it has already deemed most profitable.
Not every city jumped at the chance to dance with Jeff Bezos. The mayor and top county official of San Antonio, Texas, for example, sent a “Dear Jeff” letter in October, politely-but-firmly rejecting his offer to let them stuff his pockets with their community’s wealth. They rightly questioned the integrity of the bidding war process he initiated for choosing a second headquarters city: “It’s hard to imagine that a forward-thinking company like Amazon hasn’t already selected its preferred location,” they wrote. Their missive then explained that while San Antonio can compete on its merits with any city, “giving away the farm isn’t our style.”
San Jose, California’s Mayor Sam Liccardo went a step farther. His city, he wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, wouldn’t offer special incentives to Amazon or any giant corporation. Why? “Because they are a bad deal for taxpayers.”
And Little Rock, Arkansas had the most creative “no” of all. Like a love affair breakup letter, it began with “Hey Amazon, we need to talk.” The city’s human scale and non-hectic quality of urban life, it explained, “would be totally wrecked” by Amazon’s demands and, “we can’t sacrifice that for you. …Amazon, you’ve got so much going for you, and you’ll find what you’re looking for. But it’s just not us.”
Instead of giving your hard-earned dollars to Amazon this holiday season consider staying local. Check out Institute for Local Self Reliance and see how you can help stop taxpayer giveaways.