Local governments in thrall to Amazon embarrass themselves


Sam Koskie, Opinion Editor (Print)

For what has seemed like an interminable few months, local governments across the United States and Canada have tripped over themselves trying to entice Amazon, the e-commerce giant, to relocate to their respective cities or regions. Tax breaks worth billions have been rolled out, free land has been offered and municipal and state officials have practically crawled on their knees before Jeff Bezos, begging that he might deign to bestow Amazon’s investment in their hometowns.

It is, admittedly, not surprising that local officials have endeavored to make a mockery of themselves in this way. Local government anywhere has no long-standing reputation for competence – in fact, it tends to involve the more corrupt politicians and officials in modern western states. This current, shameful, brazen example of pleading for corporate goodwill, however, is an embarrassment to the concept of government working vaguely in favor of local citizens.

To take only a few, and by no means the worst, examples of this foul prostration on the altar of corporate investment, Maryland has offered $5 billion in subsidies, euphemistically termed “incentives,” while New Jersey has offered $7 billion in a desperate bid to attract Amazon to Newark. Nearly all the cities shortlisted by Amazon have done likewise, and it is all but certain that Amazon will be awarded somewhere north of $5 billion, regardless of where it settles.

And what would the supposedly lucky city gain from all this investment? A few fancy new buildings, perhaps 50,000 jobs, strained public infrastructure, and, quite likely, a gaping budget deficit. The tax receipts of a few thousand tech workers will make no real difference in municipal finances compared to the costs of the tax break Amazon demands. The strain on local infrastructure, with roads becoming overcrowded, schools overfilled and utilities with thousands of new customers, is bound to devastate already constrained local budgets. And states will be in no shape to help cities, having already mortgaged their future to Amazon.

America has been in thrall to corporate interests for years, as witnessed by such recent follies as the tax plan passed last December. The race for the Amazon headquarters is only the latest, most blatant, example. The time has long since passed for local governments across the country to cease their race to the bottom for government subsidies. Making Amazon pay its full share of taxes would be a good, if belated, place to start.