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Know Your Rights
Source: Daily News
Subject: Amazon
Type: Media Coverage

Amazon opponents call for transparency as they embrace a slate of bills that could overhaul how New York does business

ALBANY — The scuttled Amazon deal is a prime example of the need to overhaul New York’s approach to economic development, according to a new coalition of advocates and lawmakers.

Democratic lawmakers from the Senate and Assembly joined a progressive alliance Monday in the Capitol to unveil their “neighbors beyond Amazon” economic development platform. Citing the $3 billion tax incentive offered to the online retailer as example, the group will push a slate of bills they say will tap the brakes on gentrification and open up development deals to greater oversight.

“We’re here to say we were brave enough to take on Amazon, and we’re not going to stop until economic development works for us,” said Sasha Wijeyeratne, the executive director of the nonprofit Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence, one of many groups that opposed Amazon’s plan to build a campus in Queens.

One new proposal by Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) would require a social impact assessment before any major project is approved.

“No matter if you were for or against the specific project in Long Island City, we can all agree the process stunk,” Gianaris said of the secretive bidding war Amazon hosted before choosing Queens. “The process was not considerate enough of the people who already live in these communities or the effect these economic development policies have on the people of the State of New York.”

Gianaris became the face of the Amazon resistance when he was nominated to an obscure board with veto power over portions of the proposal. His position drew the ire of Gov. Cuomo after Amazon blamed a “lack of collaborative relationships with state and local leaders” for its decision to back out of the deal – taking the potential for 25,000 jobs with it.

But the senator and his fellow opponents say the whole debacle just shows how skewed the process is in favor of corporations and large developments.

“We saw how much gentrification and the displacement of working-class families has become a crisis in not only [the Amazon deal], but in economic development projects nationwide,” Make the Road New York Co-Executive Director Deborah Axt said.

A representative for the governor declined to weigh in on the yet-to-be introduced bill.

Lawmakers also plan to amend the Economic Accountability and Transparency Act to implement a host of measures, including local hire mandates, protection for workers’ rights to organize and caps on subsidies.

The bill, introduced earlier this session by Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-Queens) and Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens), will include a cap on total tax credits or subsidies companies can benefit from. It will also include language requiring subsidized projects to hire local workers and allow employees to organize.

Kim and Ramos also plan to add an amendment barring companies whose CEO makes more than 30 times its average employee from receiving subsidies.

“For too many decades, politicians have used words like jobs, revenue, growth to give away billions and billion of dollars,” Kim said. “We’re putting economic accountability and transparency first.”

Separate bills would also create a database of deals that would track company-specific information about jobs promised versus created and allow the public to view and search the data, reimpose a stock transfer sales tax, which the state had from 1905 to 1981, and place a progressive tax on corporations whose CEOs earn more than 30 times their average employee.

Another would ban nondisclosure agreements in economic development negotiations, such as the ones signed by those involved in the Amazon project.

Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, warned that the legislation could scare off even more companies looking to set up shop in New York.

“The flurry of proposals released today by the groups that drove Amazon out of Long Island City will be unlikely to get much support from the majority of New Yorkers who want to see more good jobs and a thriving economy,” she said. “Who will pay for the social programs and infrastructure that the advocates call for if businesses desert the state?”