ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo sought to fire back at critics Thursday who say New York overpaid to lure Amazon to New York, contending significant incentives were necessary.
The Democrat, in a public radio interview, said the criticism of the incentive package was “nonsensical.” Between the state and New York City governments, the total incentives offered could total up to $3 billion. Some politicians, including U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and activists have called the offer too generous.
“Obviously, we had to win the competition or else we wind up with zero,” Cuomo said on The Capitol Pressroom, a statewide radio program originating in Albany. “Everyone provided an incentive package. And our incentive package was not one of the highest incentive packages.”
The online retail giant announced Tuesday it would build new headquarters in suburban Washington, D.C., and along the East River in Queens. Each would host about 25,000 workers, the company said.
The state offered about $1.5 billion in grants and tax incentives. The city chipped in another $1.3 billion.
While the news of Amazon’s decision drew cheers from some, it sparked a protest in Long Island City — the proposed location — and calls to boycott the company.
"Why is Amazon entitled to $3 billion — $3 billion — tax dollars?" said state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), who represents Long Island City, noting Google brought jobs to New York without tax incentives.
“While I’m glad that Amazon recognizes that Queens is a great place to do business, I’m concerned about the lack of community input and the incentives that Amazon received in order to convince them to bring these jobs to New York,” Gillibrand wrote on Twitter. “One of the wealthiest companies in history should not be receiving financial assistance from the taxpayers while too many New York families struggle to make ends meet.”
The fact that New Jersey and other states offered more incentives underscored the point that state offers weren’t the biggest factor and maybe weren’t necessary, critics said. Amazon itself said, in its announcement, “attracting top talent” was a major factor in its decision to pick New York and Washington.
That the deal allows Amazon to bypass New York City’s land-use review process also sparked protests.
Cuomo contended the corporate and income tax generated from Amazon jobs will far outweigh the incentives in the long run.
“My view is 25,000 jobs is a big, transformative step,” Cuomo said in diversifying the state’s economy and reaching its goal of making New York a tech center.
The governor didn’t answer a question about whether part of the incentive package would have to be approved by the Public Authorities Control Board. The obscure panel includes representatives from the state Assembly and Senate and requires unanimous approval for issuing state grants (a $500 million capital grant was part of New York’s offer to Amazon). In 2005, the board killed then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal for a Manhattan football stadium.
“We’re talking to people in the community who have legitimate questions,” Cuomo said, in part, when asked about the PACB role. “This is a big deal and this is a big development. I understand the anxiety and the questions.”
Later Thursday, a Cuomo administration official said that because the $500 million grant would be doled out in smaller annual chunks, money could be allocated without going through the PACB.