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State official: Amazon's HQ2 will generate $27.5B in tax revenue

Howard Zemsky, CEO of Empire State Development, testified before the State Legislature that the retail giant's Queens project will bring 25,000 jobs that will produce billions in tax dollars.

Amazon's proposed HQ2 would be built in Long

Amazon's proposed HQ2 would be built in Long Island City, Queens, seen on June 26, 2018. Photo Credit: AllCityAerial.com/Kevin P. Coughlin

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s economic development czar said Tuesday the Amazon HQ2 project in Queens will generate billions of dollars in tax revenue for local schools, mass transit, housing and other community projects that wouldn’t exist otherwise.

Howard Zemsky, CEO of Empire State Development, the state’s primary business-aid agency, testified before the State Legislature that Amazon's proposed headquarters will bring 25,000 jobs to Long Island City. They will produce $27.5 billion in tax revenue over 25 years, he said. The positions will pay more than $150,000 per year.

“Amazon will have an annual payroll of $3.75 billion. …There’s been nothing like it in history,” he said at a hearing in Albany on Cuomo’s proposed 2019-20 budget. “We give them back a small percentage of what they give us. This isn’t money sitting in any account,” Zemsky said, referring to the projected tax revenue from the Amazon project.

State Sen. John Liu (D-Flushing), a critic of the project, questioned whether the online retailer really needs nearly $3 billion in tax breaks from the state and New York City. 

He said many city residents are skilled workers. Amazon "probably would have come here anyway,” he said, adding that two-thirds of the private-sector jobs created in the state since 2011 were not supported by state tax breaks.

Zemsky responded that other states offered Amazon much more in the North America competition for its HQ2 project. New Jersey offered $7 billion in tax incentives; Maryland, $8.5 billion, while New York negotiated a deal valued at $1.5 billion to $1.7 billion.

In addition, New York City has promised a $1.3 billion tax break.

Separately Tuesday, the Siena Research Institute in upstate Loudonville, near Albany, released a poll showing voters across the state back the Amazon deal, 56 percent to 36 percent. In New York City, 58 percent support the project, while 35 percent oppose it. The poll of 778 voters was conducted Feb. 4-7 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

An Amazon spokesman noted that support for HQ2 was strongest on Long Island and in the city's northern suburbs, 66 percent to 25 percent. "From construction to hospitality to software engineers, we plan to create opportunities for families across New York. We’re very appreciative to have seen so much support from everyday families on Long Island and across the five boroughs,” the spokesman said.

Last year, Seattle-based Amazon  selected Long Island City, Queens, and Crystal City, Virginia, a Washington, D.C., suburb, for its two East Coast headquarters. In Queens, the company plans to invest $2.5 billion and hire up to 25,000 people.

"This is an outcome that we worked very hard to achieve and we should be proud of," Zemsky testified. "We were one of only two winners out of 237 cities that submitted."

Amazon's HQ2 is opposed by some city politicians, including Sen Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), who has been nominated to a state board that could scuttle the project. Cuomo claimed last week that the Senate is trying to kill the deal.

The governor's comments came after The Washington Post reported that Amazon executives were reconsidering their decision to come to Queens. 

After the hearing, Zemsky told reporters in Albany he hasn't spoken with Amazon representatives since the Post report, though he added, "I think they've been surprised" by the vocal opposition from New York City politicians and progressive groups.

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