Produced by Mark Seman & Anthony Kane
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is standing by her opposition to a deal that would have seen online retailer Amazon build its new headquarters in New York, despite the loss of an estimated 25,000 jobs for the city.
“My opposition was less and is less about something personal with Amazon, and it’s more about the structure of the deal,” Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., told Yahoo News’ podcast “Skullduggery” on Sunday. “A lot of people say, ‘Oh, this thing pays for itself.’ First of all … I don’t know if revenue neutral is the goal that we need right now. Secondly, 25,000 jobs at $150,000 is what was promised. Does that sound realistic?”
Due to vocal resistance from "a number of state and local politicians” and activists opposed to the $3 billion in incentives offered to attract the company, Amazon in February announced that it was abandoning plans to build in a Queens neighborhood, part of which includes Ocasio-Cortez’s district.
"While polls show that 70 percent of New Yorkers support our plans and investment,” Amazon said in a statement, “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 we and many others envisioned in Long Island City."
According to a recent poll, 57 percent of voters in Ocasio-Cortez’s district said Amazon’s decision to cancel the deal was bad for New York, and 58 percent would like to see the deal revived.
“I don’t regret opposing it and vocalizing my apprehension about this deal because it smelled fishy,” said Ocasio-Cortez, who also noted her surprise that her own “five tweets” were enough to quash the plan.
“Now, did I think that Amazon was going to say well it's our way or the highway, we’re not going to negotiate any aspect of this deal, and you’re either going to accept what we tell you or we’re going to leave?” Ocasio-Cortez continued. “Did I think that Amazon was going to try to bully their way into our district? No.”
“I thought that they perhaps would pursue a reasonable course of action and either there would be some explanation of this deal, some negotiation of some aspects,” added Ocasio-Cortez. “Perhaps there would be increased expenditures or investments into the district. Perhaps we could create a CUNY [City University of New York] pipeline to train kids coding skills to [get] jobs at Amazon.”
There is a financial literacy epidemic in America.— Andrew Ross Sorkin (@andrewrsorkin) February 14, 2019
Quick lesson: NYC wasn’t handing cash to Amazon. It was an incentive program based on job creation, producing tax revenue.
There isn’t a $3 billion pile of money that can now be spent on subways or education.
But Ocasio-Cortez her critique of the incentives wasn’t meant as an all or nothing proposition.
“I was open to multiple possibilities,” she said.
To win the nationwide competition for Amazon’s new headquarters, New York offered incentives that included $505 million in a capital grant and $897 million from the city’s Relocation and Employment Assistance Program.
“People weren’t reading this deal. People think that all $3 billion were in tax cuts. A lot of it was tax cuts,” she said, but “we had 500 million in capital investments that we were building. It was written into the deal that we were going to build a helipad even for Amazon. We were actually putting hard capital into helping them build their campus while we’re constantly told that there isn’t enough hard capital to heat the rooms in NYCHA last year.”
In fact, as per the memorandum of understanding, city officials agreed to help Amazon secure “access to a helipad on the development sites” although rooftop helipads have been banned since Sept 11 attacks. If the helipad were to be built offsite instead, the agreement said that “any new construction would be at the company’s sole expense.”
Days after Amazon pulled out of the deal with the city, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo blasted Democrats like Ocasio-Cortez over their opposition.
“What happened is the greatest tragedy that I have seen since I have been in government,” Cuomo, who tried in vain to salvage the deal, told WAMC radio.
Ocasio-Cortez disagrees with the governor.
“When you're in a position like mine, you have to look at a couple of things,” she said. “You have to look at the policy. You also have to look at the politics to secure that policy.”
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