March 16, 2019; Washington Business Journal
In the same week that a nationwide bribery scandal emerged in which collegiate admissions were bought and sold, in Arlington County, Virginia, the County Board decided it would agree to pay Amazon’s desired bribe price of $23 million in economic incentives (tax breaks) “to bring the tech behemoth’s second headquarters to Northern Virginia,” reports Jonathan Capriel for the Washington Business Journal. The vote was 5–0.
A community coalition formed to oppose the deal, called For Us, Not Amazon, jeered and shouted “shame, shame, shame,” as the board vote took place “around 7 p.m. Saturday after more than six hours of testimony and deliberation,” Capriel says. The public comment period alone had constituted at least four of those six hours.
Community members who opposed the deal argued that Amazon does not need the money and expressed concerns that Amazon’s arrival would worsen the county’s existing housing shortage—likely displacing renters, especially residents of color.
Fair wages were also a stated community concern. At the meeting, Don Slaiman, a representative of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, called for the Board to hold off on approving Amazon until a fair wage agreement was in place.
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“We are looking to you to build these buildings without wage theft,” Slaiman said. “Without some kind of labor agreement, lowest bid gets the contract, and that means less safe working environments. We need a workforce agreement.”
The Washington Post notes that representatives from the NAACP and the Northern Virginia AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations) made similar points.
In explaining the approval of the Amazon tax breaks, Arlington County board members alternately said the economic incentives were “modest” in comparison to the jobs or that they had to give Amazon the money because otherwise someone else would. Matt de Ferranti, the newest board member, said at the hearing that, “In a perfect world, we would not offer incentives to the wealthiest company in the world, but there are more than 200 communities and cities that would.” Arlington is already one of the wealthiest counties in the US, with a median household income above $112,000. This is clearly a community with leverage—had it chosen to use it—but the board decided that giving tax breaks was the price they had to pay for a promised 25,000 jobs.
As Capriel explains, the way the incentive payments will work is that, “The county will give Amazon annual grants, equaling about $23 million, over the next 15 years provided the company meets square-feet targets. Between Crystal City and Pentagon City, HQ2 is expected to cover about 6 million square feet. That money will come from a portion of the increased revenue collected from the county hotel tax.” County officials claim that Amazon’s investment will generate $150 million in tax revenue over the same 15-year period.
But the $23 million is not the only money that Amazon will collect. “Arlington will also spend an estimated $28 million across a projected 10 years on public infrastructure improvements around the HQ2 sites,” adds Capriel, noting that Virginia’s state government has already agreed to provide Amazon with its own $750 million tax subsidy package.—Steve Dubb