It’s Time for Amazon to Start Paying US to Locate in Our Communities

Photo of Amazon cardbox box with words "$4 Billion in public subsidies...and counting" and later at bottom it says "That we know of."

Last November, our popular database chronicling all the public subsidies Amazon has gotten – think sales and property tax abatements, corporate income tax credits, free or discounted land, tax-free electricity and cash, lots of cash – neared $3 billion.

We thought once it got there, Good Jobs First would issue a press release to mark the milestone. But as research analyst Kasia Tarczynska checked her sources, she instead quickly found $3.7 billion worth of subsidies.

Last week, counting a recent megadeal in New York, Tarczynska reported subsidies given to Amazon have surpassed $4 billion.

Dig into the data and you may feel, as I did, particularly outraged about this recent total. And don’t forget: the true total is substantially higher because Amazon has gotten increasingly aggressive about hiding its public looting. And because the electricity tax breaks its Amazon Web Services data centers get are undisclosed in many states.

Local and state governments have already approved $594.6 million more in public subsidies so far in 2021. That’s enough to hire 9,340 teachers in the U.S., based on the average salary in 2019-20.

Or, put another way, that’s enough for Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to buy his $500 million yacht and still have enough leftover to pay for union-busting consultants for the next 26 years.

This year has been a banner subsidy year for Amazon, but 2020 wasn’t bad either. It got $260.9 million (that we can see), or enough to pay for 47,439 of our littlest, most important future taxpayers to attend preschool for an entire year. 

When the pandemic hit, bricks-and-mortar stores were ordered to close. But Amazon, as an online marketplace, had no such restrictions: it expanded and opened more locations (at one point hiring 1,400 people per day), many of which received economic development subsidies: $855.5 million since the start of 2020.

Net sales soared in 2020 by $106 billion, hitting a record $386.1 billion.

Jeff Bezos’s wealth soared to $200 billion (it fluctuates), which means if he reaches the life expectancy for a white male in the United States of 75, he could spend over $32.2 million per day until then.

That one man can accumulate so much wealth is due to many reasons – monopolistic practices, worker and vendor exploitation, union-busting tactics, over-consumption – but tax avoidance and public subsidies have also been integral to Bezos’ business plan. That one man can accumulate so much wealth during a pandemic that drove record numbers of people to food banks as they try to stave off eviction, while workers (including those at Amazon) begged for personal protective equipment is utterly abhorrent and symbolizes a broken system.

But we aren’t powerless to let Bezos continue to treat local officials as puppets and workers as his personal robots. There are two key things we can do right now.

The first is to tell your local and state leaders to stop giving Amazon a single penny more of your hard-earned money. Not only do subsidies give Amazon an unfair advantage over locally owned, small businesses, they pay the company to do what it must do anyway (build more warehouses). And its failure to pay its way comes at the expense of schools, roads, healthcare and other public goods in your backyard.

The second is to start pressuring your local leaders to require Amazon to enter into Community Benefits Agreements as a condition of arriving. Make sure facilities are built with local labor and pay prevailing construction wages (no hardship exemptions), and prevailing permanent-job warehouse wages (comparing them to retail wages is a false equivalency). Have Amazon pay infrastructure surcharges for wear and tear on roads, and require it to convert to all-electric truck fleets to prevent air pollution hot-spots. It should pay all sales taxes on all transactions to reduce harms to local businesses. 

Then, and only then, will we begin to level the playing field and maybe convince Bezos that sailing off into the sunset on his $500 million yacht isn’t such a bad idea.

What deals are we missing? Email kasia@goodjobsfirst.org to let us know.

Image of the nearly $600 million Amazon has gotten in public subsidies and the $500 million Amazon founder Jeff Bezos spent on his yacht.

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