MDC DSA Amazon Critic assails local government tax breaks at Town Hall

Metro DC DSA NoVA Branch Co-Chair Elizabeth Stafford presented public comment on behalf of DSA at the “Amazon HQ2 Town Hall” hosted by Our Revolution Arlington on Thursday, June 21st. The event was co-sponsored by NoVA Branch, Movement 4 Black Lives DC, Arlington Green Party, Our Revolution Northern Virginia Steering Committee, Showing Up for Racial Justice Northern Virginia, and Grassroots Alexandria. An edited version of Elizabeth’s speech follows.

Good evening, and thank you all for being here. My name is Elizabeth Stafford; I am a member of the Northern Virginia branch of the Democratic Socialists of America, and I have lived and worked in NoVA for just over three years. We know that Amazon’s HQ2 would bring major changes to the economy of Northern Virginia. We also know that the 20 locations Amazon is currently considering are intensely competing to offer the most “business-friendly” package of tax subsidies and incentives. This tax-break race to the bottom raises two primary concerns: first, it will drain municipal coffers of the necessary funds to combat oncoming infrastructure and housing pressures; second, it is wholly unnecessary -- Amazon may well have already selected its site and is only holding out for more, more, more.

Although the general public remains uninformed of the specifics due to non-disclosure agreements, we know that locations on Amazon’s shortlist are offering billions in tax incentives and subsidies to woo the company. Montgomery County, MD is offering a package totaling $8.5 billion, for example. I can understand the impulse to welcome Amazon. We have been promised exciting things, like “50,000 new jobs.” But we have no sense of how many of those jobs will be local hires, and how many will be transplants. Will these new jobs actually bring 50,000 new commuters and 50,000 new families seeking housing in our already-crowded market? I can’t reasonably argue that new jobs are bad, or that no one new should ever move to our region, but our growth must be well-considered. At this moment, our Metro system is raising fees and cutting hours, I-66 commuter tolls are sky-high, and rent costs are putting incredible pressure on low-to-middle income individuals and especially on lower-income families. Any population boom must be matched with an infrastructure boom. We must invest in public transit, roads, schools, housing, and green spaces to match the demand and comfort of our residents. But how can we make these investments when our tax revenue is funneled away into subsidies?

Furthermore, Northern Virginia does not even need an elaborate subsidies package to be an attractive HQ2 candidate. We offer the “urban campus” environment their employees expect, as well as proximity to major transit hubs and cultural attractions. Amazon Web Services already has data centers here. Jeff Bezos has made a variety of local investments that indicate he’s willing to stay, ranging from the largest residential structure in D.C. to the Washington Post. Proximity to the Hill, where Amazon has increased lobbying expenses by 400% in the past five years, will be critical to their continued success, as federal regulation is essentially the only force that still restrains their growth. And yet the final site selection continues to be delayed month after month, as the offers continue to grow. It’s a naked play for more generous bids, one that we must pressure our representatives not to bow down to.

As a corporation, Amazon’s interests begin and end with their own wealth and influence. Any promises of “corporate responsibility” or community benefit not nailed down in ironclad legal contracts should be considered empty. At the barest minimum, we must insist on full transparency with our representatives and policymakers. We demand that Amazon not be gifted taxpayer funds. We demand that if they select Northern Virginia as the site for HQ2, that enforceable regulations are established for local hiring, labor rights, environmental protections, transit and housing development, and the countless other terms that Amazon can afford to provide if they wish to be welcomed into our community. We, as the community, have the right to demand these things, and we will not be silent.


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