About a week ago, Muckrock, which describes itself as “a non-profit, collaborative news site that brings together journalists, researchers, activists, and regular citizens to request, analyze, and share government documents, making politics more transparent and democracies more informed,” launched an ambitious project. They would like to get their hands on every city’s bid for Amazon’s second headquarters. Why? Well, while only one of the estimated 238 bids submitted to the Seattle-based company will be chosen, the news site believes the precedent set by the bidding process will have a big impact on the future of corporate subsidies.
We’ve touched on this topic before, and I speculated that, perhaps, the subsidy math doesn’t pencil out — that the billions of dollars cities are expected to offer corporations are never returned in the form of increased tax revenue. Regardless, local governments around the country appear more than willing to shell out billions in tax dollars to lure a big-name corporate grab. Is this the best way to grow urban economies? Is this the best use of public resources? What message will this frenzy of bidding send other corporations? How long can subsidies grow until the entire racket is baldly absurd? Can you put a dollar figure on that tipping point?
Muckrock believes the answers to some of those questions may lay in the Amazon bids, though the organization has been having mixed luck in its efforts to track them down. An open records request sent to the Dallas Regional Chamber was promptly turned down because “the DRC is privately funded and not a governmental body, and therefore not subject to the TPIA.” Other cities have echoed similar refrains. But some cities were more than happy to share the bids, including New Bedford, MA; the Bay Area; Chula Vista, CA; and Fresno, CA. What’s in those bids?
“According to Greg LeRoy, Executive Director of Good Jobs First, income tax and pre-existing tax incentives might make up a bigger piece of the pie for Amazon than one-time tax incentives.”
The site has put together a guide to reading the bids, and if you happen to stumble across a bid, they have a form with which you can submit the documents.