Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has called Amazon’s HQ2 “the greatest economic development opportunity in a generation.” Increasingly, though, Washington, D.C.-area residents don’t agree. Since D.C., along with nearby Montgomery County and Northern Virginia, made the list of finalists for the retail giant’s second headquarters, a bipartisan group of citizens is organizing to resist the deal, WAMU reports.
From the station:
In Seattle, an attempt by that city’s council to tax large employers in order to fund affordable housing was met with swift and ruthless opposition from Amazon, stoking concern that the company, if it came to the Washington area, could crush similar efforts here. Activists have also raised concerns about the company’s potential impact on already-high rents, its cutthroat corporate culture and its penchant for legally avoiding taxes — a strategy that has been baked into its business model since Bezos started the company in 1994.
Now, those doubts have begun to coagulate into a movement against local bids for Amazon.
That movement is mostly a series of conversations at this point, according to WAMU, hosted by Our Revolution Arlington (which grew out of Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign). But its members are looking at community wealth-building strategies with real-world examples, for example, Richmond, Virginia’s Office of Community Wealth Building, which connects residents with smaller enterprises such as Stone Brewing. (Next City has covered similar wealth-building efforts here and here.) Ultimately, Our Revolution Arlington wants to be in a position to push back against blanket corporate giveaways if Amazon does choose their area — and get a better, more equitable deal.
“Whatever jurisdiction ultimately is the landing spot for HQ2 will be in a much better position than Seattle,” Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey recently told the station. “When Amazon started and began growing there, no one was thinking about these issues.”
As Next City has covered, the competition to land Amazon is creating something of an artificial race to the bottom — funded with public dollars that the company doesn’t necessarily need.
“Taxpayers should watch their wallets as the trophy deal of the decade attracts politicians to a hyper-sophisticated tax-break auction,” Good Jobs First Executive Director Greg LeRoy said in a statement when the HQ2 race was announced. “We fear that many states and localities will offer to grossly overspend to attract Amazon, even though the business basics — especially a metro area’s executive talent pool — will surely control the company’s decision.”
The state of Maryland, according to WAMU, has approved $5 billion in tax breaks for the company. But many of the finalists won’t disclose what they’ve offered the company, even though their promises are technically made with public money. As Next City has reported, there’s no national law ordering cities to make their bids public. Problematically, though, those figures haven’t just been kept from citizens and reporters. Last year, the Nashville Scene reported that members of Nashville’s Metro Council — the very people who would have to approve the incentive package — hadn’t even seen the city’s proposal.
“I would be very curious to see what we are giving away,” Nashville District 31 Councilmember Fabian Bedne told the paper at the time. “We never learn about these things until it’s too late.”
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.