Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Facing Opposition, Amazon Scraps New York Office Plans

Timothy Lee, Ars Technica:

Amazon is canceling its controversial plan to build a new corporate campus in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens. The plan, which included almost $3 billion in subsidies and tax breaks, provoked a grassroots backlash.

“The commitment to build a new headquarters requires positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials who will be supportive over the long-term,” Amazon said in a statement. “While polls show that 70 percent of New Yorkers support our plans and investment, a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project.”

Barry Ritholtz:

Man, so many people are getting this wrong. No, Amazon did not pull out of the NYC deal — and a lot of people have done a terrible job trying to explain this.

[…]

Amazon should have been less mercenary. The world’s wealthiest man running The world’s most valuable company does not need to have everyone else subsidize a for-profit firm.

[…]

As a fire-breathing Wall Street working capitalist, allow me to share my crazy idea:

Build your own fucking HQ on your own goddamned dime.

Vishaan Chakrabarti, in an editorial published by Buzzfeed News, was one of the few voices I saw dissenting from the widespread praise for Amazon’s decision to discontinue its New York plans:

Nobody comes out of this looking good: Amazon, city and state politicians and the deal’s proponents and opponents all could have done a better job explaining its pros and cons. But the most worrisome group — and those who now need to be held accountable — are those who simply want no growth at all, believing that New York will somehow thrive forever regardless. Many of them have benefited from the city’s booming economy or rent regulations, and now they want to shut the door behind them. Put simply, they are playing with fire, and it is the rest of us who must either collectively stand up to them, or prepare to get collectively burned.

I think Chakrabarti’s piece is worth contemplating, but I disagree with its premise. I didn’t see a lot of opposition to Amazon’s plans for a New York office strictly or even primarily based on worries about growth. However, what I did see was ample concern about the way this project was handled. Amazon’s public nationwide RFP was a cruel joke, and applicant cities pitched the company in opaque, questionable ways. And this whole process occurred as the public increasingly began to question both enormous tech companies and development incentives.

If Amazon wants to try again, they should. I bet New York would welcome their office like they have Apple’s and Google’s — both of which have expanded in the city. But they do not need a multibillion-dollar incentive package.

Matthew Gardner of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy:

The company’s newest corporate filing reveals that, far from paying the statutory 21 percent income tax rate on its U.S. income in 2018, Amazon reported a federal income tax rebate of $129 million. For those who don’t have a pocket calculator handy, that works out to a tax rate of negative 1 percent. The fine print of Amazon’s income tax disclosure shows that this achievement is partly due to various unspecified “tax credits” as well as a tax break for executive stock options.

This isn’t the first year that the cyber-retailing giant has avoided federal taxes. Last year, the company paid no federal corporate income taxes on $5.6 billion in U.S. income.

This is solely at the federal level, but it is nevertheless shameful for one of the world’s largest and richest companies.