It’s as if some local elected officials are putting up “Closed for Business” signs on New York’s bridges, tunnels, airports and train stations. Add 25,000 jobs? Nah, we don’t need those. Reap billions in tax revenue? Nope, don’t want that, either. Improve public transit, schools and open space? No, thanks.
But that’s not the right message to send to Amazon or to other companies that might want to come to New York, especially when the state’s fiscal situation is precarious, as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli detailed Tuesday. And it’s especially not the right message when polling shows strong support among registered voters in New York City, in Queens, and in the State Senate’s 12th District, where one of Amazon’s second headquarters would be located.
There are, of course, legitimate questions that need answers, especially about needed improvements to public transit and infrastructure. But they don’t call for the vehement opposition that could send Amazon running into another city’s arms.
Also, it’s one thing for State Sen. Michael Gianaris, a Democrat who represents the district, and other elected officials to blast the deal and refuse to negotiate. But now Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has unwisely handed Gianaris more power, giving him the potential opportunity to veto Amazon’s HQ2 plan in Long Island City through a seat on the Public Authorities Control Board.
Stewart-Cousins made an error in judgment by choosing someone who directly represents the area involved in a project with broad impact to New York State. And it’s not just about Amazon. Gianaris, who’s also in charge of the Senate Democrats’ campaign committee, would have veto power over other key projects, like Belmont Park’s redevelopment. He said he’d consider local state senators’ opinions of a project in his decision-making. But the board isn’t supposed to be a political vehicle; it’s supposed to consider only a project’s fiscal and financial viability. And until the State Legislature bans corporate contributions, there would be the appearance of a conflict of interest between Gianaris’ campaign committee hat, and any new power to decide such deals. Gianaris says there would be no such conflict, and pledges that fiscal considerations would outweigh political ones.
What’s more, Gianaris and others make it seem as if the state is handing Amazon $3 billion from state coffers. What they fail to note is that $2.5 billion of that is future tax credits, not money the state has or could give away. The tax revenue that would come from Amazon’s presence is far greater than any credit or grant the tech giant would get. Also, the argument that Amazon would have come without the tax incentives lacks evidence, especially given that Amazon’s initial pitch to cities specifically cited incentives as a “decision driver.” Gianaris and others knew that the deal would include state incentives when they signed a letter inviting Amazon to come to New York City.
Stewart-Cousins made a poor decision by not choosing someone to serve on the board who has deep fiscal expertise and is not so deeply connected to the day-to-day battles of district politics.
We’ll never know whether a deal with Amazon can deliver for New York if we hang up a closed-for-business sign now.— The editorial board