New York politicians complaining about subsidies are really just upset they didn't get a seat at the table
The news that Amazon — the nation’s largest retailer — will site a main office in western Queens, bringing at least 25,000 well-paying jobs to New York City, was met with howls of scorn and anger Wednesday by local politicians and activists. State Sen. Mike Gianaris and Councilman Jimmy van Bramer, representing Long Island City, condemned a deal that would offer Amazon some $3 billion in combined state and local subsidies as “massive corporate welfare from scarce public resources.” At a protest, state Sen.-elect Julia Salazar described it as “valuing corporate interests over public education.”
It is true that public subsidies for private corporations to encourage them to relocate is bad policy. It encourages a race to the bottom between jurisdictions, and rarely delivers promised results. However, none of the elected officials sounding off against the Amazon deal are angry about the supposedly lavish package that New York is offering. They are just mad that they weren’t invited to the table.
Consider the actual magnitude of the subsidies Amazon is getting. Roughly $3 billion in tax credits and abatements, many to which Amazon was legally entitled in any event, are stretched over at least 15 or 20 years. That amounts to about $200 million annually, on the high side.
The combined budget of New York City and State for 2019 is roughly $235 billion. As a point of reference, in 2016 the city paid out $1.7 billion just in overtime. The Amazon package, in the context of city and state spending that will amount to trillions of dollars over the course of the next decade, is a rounding error.
Seth Barron is an associate editor of City Journal and project director of the NYC Initiative at the Manhattan Institute.