After a months-long PR campaign, Amazon has officially announced it will split its so-called second headquarters between New York and Arlington, Virginia, outside Washington, D.C., after being offered more than $3 billion in tax breaks and other incentives. The news prompted protests at the site of Amazon’s future office complex in Long Island City, New York, to condemn the city and state governments for showering Amazon with massive tax breaks and other giveaways to entice the company to expand into the city. As part of the deal, New York taxpayers will even build a helipad for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who is the richest man in the world. Many local politicians have openly criticized authorities in New York and Virginia for backing the deals, which will create a total of 50,000 jobs. We speak with New York Assemblymember Ron Kim, who is introducing legislation to block the deal and redirect taxpayer money away from Amazon subsidies and toward student debt relief. He recently co-wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times headlined “New York Should Say No to Amazon.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show looking at Amazon and corporate welfare. Protesters are heading to the site of Amazon’s future office complex in Long Island City, New York, today to condemn the city and state governments for showering Amazon with massive tax breaks and other giveaways in order to entice the company to expand into the city. On Tuesday, Amazon officially announced it would split its so-called second headquarters between New York and Arlington, Virginia, just across the river from Washington, D.C., after being offered more than $3 billion in tax breaks and other incentives. As part of the deal, New York taxpayers will even build a helipad for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who is the richest man in the world. Amazon recently became the world’s second U.S. company to be valued at over $1 trillion, thanks in part to the fact that the company paid no federal taxes in 2017. Amazon also built its company in part by not collecting local sales taxes on goods sold online.
On Tuesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo defended the massive breaks for Amazon.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO: This is the largest economic development initiative that has ever been done by the city or the state, or the city and the state together. … For every dollar we invest, we’re going to get back about $9, give or take. So, to find the money that we need to invest in the subways, invest in schools, etc., this is a big moneymaker for us, costs us nothing, nada, niente, goose egg. We make money doing this.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Governor Andrew Cuomo, who joked he even would offer to change his name if Amazon selected New York.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO: Anything else I can think of that will get us over the top, anything they want named Amazon—I’ll change my name to Amazon Cuomo, if that’s what it takes.
AMY GOODMAN: But many local politicians have openly criticized authorities in New York and Virginia for backing the deals, which will create a total of 50,000 jobs.
Joining us now here in New York is New York Assemblymember Ron Kim, who’s introducing legislation to block the deal and redirect taxpayer money away from Amazon subsidies and toward student debt relief. He recently co-authored an opinion piece for The New York Times headlined “New York Should Say No to Amazon.”
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Assemblymember Kim. Why should New York say no? And what did you learn with the release of information about this secret deal?
ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: Yeah, first of all, I am absolutely outraged that New York, under Governor Cuomo, is willing to give away up to $3 billion of taxpayers’ money without any consultation. This isn’t my money; this isn’t your—this is the people’s money, that he’s willing to just give it away to the richest man on the planet, when we are literally sleepwalking into a supernova, catastrophic financial meltdown, after 10 years from the last financial meltdown.
More people are living in debt than ever in the history of humankind as we speak right now. In New York alone, New Yorkers, we have over 1 million New Yorkers living in student debt—living with student debt, unable to pay the minimum amount, barely getting by. But instead of bailing out the people here in New York, our own Democratic governor is willing to give—transfer wealth out of New York and give it directly to the pockets of the richest man on the planet? That is ridiculous, and it’s about time we step up, as Democrats and as progressives, and really put an end to corporate welfare.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Assemblyman, this whole issue of how Mayor de Blasio and the governor negotiated this deal, as you say, in secret, and then, apparently, the mayor agreed to allow the—to bypass the City Council by allowing the state to be the prime mover in assembling the land and the project, could you talk about that and what can be done at the Assembly level to challenge that?
ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: I’m introducing legislation to call back this deal, under the New York state Constitution—actually clearly states that we’re not allowed to give any corporate subsidies or money to the private sector or business or corporation. They’re getting around it by working with quasi-government agencies, that was designed, for the last 60 years, to execute this type of transfer of wealth. And we can redesign it. Because we designed it, we can redesign it to work for the people of New York. What’s the point of having a majority progressive Democrat state Senate, that we worked so hard for in the state of New York, if we can’t stop one man from transferring $3 billion of taxpayers’ money to the richest man on this planet?
AMY GOODMAN: And explain what the deal is. I mean, it was touted as this would be Amazon’s second headquarters, but now it looks very different than that.
ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: It is completely indicative of what Amazon stands for, which is why I never signed on to the original letter—elected officials wanted Amazon—because they represent the worst of our democracy. They are—they have become the market, not just controlling the market. They’ve become the market, from the supply chain to the retailers, to the online space. And they tell customers in cities and states, “Hey, this is the deal we’re going to give you.” And then, once they extract all value and money from us, they change the terms.
It’s not a second headquarters. This is merely an expansion of growth. And every neoliberal, technocratic Democrat is counting jobs, jobs, jobs, economic growth. That is not—the jobs were already in the pipeline. They were already going to expand, because the company is designed to expand. That money is not going to job creation. That money is going into the pockets of the C-levels at Amazon, and it is a complete waste of taxpayers’ money.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about the impact on your borough, Queens, of this project, because, clearly, as I understand it, some of the land being assembled is right next to the largest public housing project in the country. What the impact will be on housing prices in Queens, a largely working-class borough, as a result of the recruiting in of thousands and thousands of middle-class jobs into that area?
ASSEMBLYMEMBER RON KIM: Ever since I came out strongly opposing this, I’ve received countless emails from people from Seattle telling me what’s been happening there as residents, how they’ve artificially inflated the value of real estate, pricing people out, working families, middle-class, left and right. There are absolutely no safeguards in New York City under the terms that the governor has said. He can bring in whatever economist that is in-house and make up random numbers, unless we audit and have an outside-perspective economist dissecting every single one of these—one of the terms that he laid out. There is no way we can guarantee the protection of people getting priced out of these type of communities and the largest affordable housing units.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion, expand it to a roundtable. Ron Kim is a member of the New York State Assembly, recently co-wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times, “New York Should Say No to Amazon.” This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.