Democrats suddenly have amnesia on ‘corporate welfare’ and helping urban America, but will face NIMBYs in their party who will fight this deal
I am of two minds on Amazon.com’s decision to bifurcate its 2nd headquarters in Arlington, VA (Crystal City section) and Long Island City, Queens, NY.
On the one hand, I am happy for Virginia for getting this big prize, considering some 280 other cities competed. I also am happy for Queens, where I was born, because New York State is not keeping pace with job growth as lower-tax Sunbelt states (note the huge number of New Yorkers moving to Virginia and adding to our “Blueness.”)
And, part of me laments Amazon did not choose the Center for Innovative Technology site on the Loudoun-Fairfax border, as that site is closer to more housing options, a Silver Line Metro station (that may open within two years) and more freeway capacity than Crystal City, which is largely served by Route 1 (formerly, Jefferson Davis Highway).
We can have a public policy debate on whether Virginia and New York really needed to dole out $2 billion in public-financed economic development “incentives” to lure Amazon, given the fact founder and co-chair, Jeff Bezos, is now the wealthiest man in the world. We also can debate the viability of relying on Metro to get employees to work, given Metro’s problems, was wise, and if Amazon will really deliver on its promise to bring 25,000 jobs to each location. But under Virginia’s Economic Development Partnership rules, recipients of local and state aide have to make good on the job growth and demonstrate it.
We also wonder where all these new employees are going to live given the high cost of housing in both the DC and New York area.
But one thing I find amazing here is how Bezos, a liberal whose acquisition of “The Washington Post” in 2013 made that paper more liberal and anti-Republican, chose two locations that are not really bad off economically, but give Amazon a headquarters located on the doorsteps of the Nation’s capital and the Nations’ largest metropolis. So it seems a little corporate ego was involved in the decision.
Philadelphia, Newark, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Boston were among cities that competed but were passed over. These are cities with not only better mass transit options, but available land and decayed housing for redevelopment. In other words, they could use the economic development shot in the arm more than New York and DC.
Furthermore, Amazon’s investment would probably be eligible for the new “Opportunity Zone” tax credit that Congress passed as part of the 2017 tax bill. Yes, that tax bill that Democrats ran against in 2018.
According to this “New York Times” article, “The zones were included in the tax law by Senator Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican who was born into poverty in North Charleston, and based on a bill he co-sponsored in 2017 with several Democrats.”
Cosponsor of the amendment was none other than Sen. Cory (Spartacus) Booker (D-NJ), and the former Mayor of Newark.
Not sure Crystal City qualifies for these “Opportunity Zones, and maybe the Queens location might not either, as the Post describes Long Island city as a “slowly gentrifying Queens neighborhood across the water from midtown Manhattan.”
But in any event, Bezos and his board acted in ways not unlike any other American company when looking for a new location. They want areas with relatively good schools, low crime, access to skilled and educated workers and no or little urban decay. In other words, they acted as capitalists, not liberals. Arlington has good schools and not a lot of student growth to worry about. Long Island City does not have great schools and more than likely, toney Amazon employees will do what most liberals do – -send their kids to private schools.
If I was a black or Latino activist, I’d be shouting RACISM at Jeff Bezos, no?
Secondly, the Amazon decision shows the hypocrisy within the Democratic Party on the issue of tax incentives, corporatism and zoning.
This deal was inked by two Democrat governors. Ralph Northam in Virginia, and Andrew Cuomo in New York, and will take the support of two Democrat-controlled local governing bodies, the New York City Council and Arlington County Board of Supervisors, to make good on the local contribution AND most importantly, zoning and transportation decisions.
Already, NIMBY groups and anti-corporate interests seem to be banding together to fight Amazon. Even the dimwitted “green” star of the liberal media, Rep-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents Queens, is denouncing this as “corporate welfare” and is drawing support from conservatives!
There is actually nothing new here. The far Right and far Left are often opposed to “corporate” welfare, as evidenced by the fact a number of House and Senate Democrats and Republicans opposed the 2008 bank and auto industry bailouts.
In the most recent campaign for governor of Wisconsin, incumbent Republican Scott Walker lost narrowly to a Democrat who railed against the $2.85 billion tax credit package. Walker spearheaded to bring Foxconn to the state
But Democrats will make the Foxconn and Amazon deal happen because bringing in giant companies not only brings jobs and tax revenue but campaign contributions. The Web site “Open Secrets” reports Amazon gave some $13 million in contributions to candidates in the 2018 election cycle, mostly Democrats
Amazon’s presence in Virginia means another corporation that candidates of both parties will be sucking up to for donations, but I believe the Democrats will benefit the most – a new reason for Republicans to be worried about our future in Virginia.
Finally, another hypocrisy worth pointing out is while Democrats say they want jobs and growth, they have become a party of elitists and environmental extremism, and as such, gain the backing of NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) groups for whatever cause (particularly on the local level).
NIMBYs in Arlington, Alexandria and yes, Queens, are already getting organized to fight this. You can expect many will breath down the necks of the Arlington supervisors when it comes time to pony up $23 million to match the state’s share of the deal, and if there are any land use or transportation questions that have to be decided, you can bet the locals will be mighty nervous.
Arlington is a bastion of elitism and NIMBYism, as noted by the I-66 widening issue. Despite its commitment to housing density, all it takes if for a few well-heeled wealthy liberals who reside in single family homes in South Arlington to get organized and they can make life most difficult for the re-election of supervisors who back the project (even if Amazon comes through with campaign cash).
To be sure, I have had to deal with a number of conservative NIMBYs in my years in politics and civic activism, but by and large, I have found most NIMBYs to be liberals who say they want things like new roads and affordable housing and jobs – but just not near them.
So, there you have it. Liberal hypocrisy on display in the Amazon deal, and we will still be giving Jeff Bezos our money to buy things since there are not many alternatives.