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Governments won’t say what they’re offering Amazon for HQ2

In this Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, file photo,

In this Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, file photo, Zavian Tate, a student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, pushes a large Amazon Dash button, in Birmingham, Ala. The buttons are part of the city's campaign to lure Amazon's second headquarters to Birmingham. Credit: AP / Brynn Anderson

PHILADELPHIA - State and local governments have been more than happy to play up the amenities they think make their locations the best choice for Amazon’s second headquarters. But many of them will not disclose the tax breaks or other financial incentives they are offering the online giant.

More than 15 states and cities, including Chicago, Cleveland and Las Vegas, refused requests from The Associated Press to detail the promises they made to try to lure the company.

Among the reasons given: Such information is a “trade secret” and disclosing it would put them at a competitive disadvantage.

Amazon’s search for a second headquarters city has triggered an unprecedented competition among governments around North America to attract a $5 billion project that promises to create 50,000 jobs. The retailing behemoth has made clear that tax breaks and grants will be a big factor in its decision. It received 238 proposals and said it will announce a decision sometime this year.

Nassau and Suffolk counties and the Town of Brookhaven all submitted proposed sites in October to New York State to be considered for inclusion in the state’s pitch to the online retail giant. Local officials said Tuesday they did not have specific figures regarding state-offered incentives.

Empire State Development, the state’s primary business-aid agency, declined to provide dollar amounts, but said the state would support regional proposals with Excelsior tax credits, assistance with the development of office space, workforce development, educational programming and research collaborations.

Public records laws around the country vary, but when courting businesses, governments generally aren’t required to disclose tax breaks and other incentives during the negotiating phase.

Open-government advocates, though, argue that Amazon is a special case because of the way it has turned the project into a public auction, the large amount of taxpayer money at stake, and the political clout the Seattle-based company could have in its new home.

“It’s all paid for by taxpayer dollars,” said Greg Leroy, head of Good Jobs First, a nonprofit group that tracks economic development spending. “Therefore, it should all be public.”

In recent months, Amazon suitors in Maine have cited New England’s charm, skiing and beaches and Detroit has cited its rebounding downtown. Chicago recruited “Star Trek” actor William Shatner to help narrate a video pitch in hopes of getting the attention of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, a devoted Trekkie.

Some state and local governments have trumpeted the financial incentives they are dangling. New Jersey’s pitch contains $7 billion in tax breaks, a draft of Houston’s plan calls for about $268 million in inducements, and Boston’s incentives include $75 million for housing for Amazon employees.

Others — including Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Nevada, Virginia and such cities as Detroit; Philadelphia; Orlando, Florida; Louisville, Kentucky; and Albuquerque, New Mexico — won’t say exactly what they’re offering.

An Amazon spokesman declined to comment.

Victor Ocasio contributed to this story

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