Amazon Subsidy Tracker: How Taxpayer Subsidies Help Build its Monopoly
Amazon.com, Inc. is growing rapidly, thanks in no small part to its aggressive strategy for getting tax breaks. Indeed, it has been getting about 20 economic development subsidy packages a year since 2012 for its warehouses and data centers—over $4 billion and counting as of May 2021. Good Jobs First has published extensively on Amazon (as we have on many other retailers) and we’ll continue to do so, especially as the company builds out its infrastructure.
AMAZON TRACKER – a running tally of subsidies granted to Amazon.com
Amazon’s “HQ2” Auction (most recent content first)
Ending the Economic War among the States: Many Americans are rightly aghast at the “economic war among the states” as exposed by Amazon’s HQ2 auction. Now, they are also emboldened to challenge this corrosive war by the enormous community organizing victory in New York City that caused Amazon to cancel one new headquarters in Queens. Good Jobs First proposes five ways to rein in the problem of governments over-spending for economic development deals—so they can better focus on strategies that work.
End the subsidy wars: Amazon took advantage of a system that’s baked into America’s economy. We must finally fix it. (Greg Leroy Op-Ed in New York Daily News) America’s corporate-dominated site location system was born in, where else, New York in 1936, when a disgruntled Chicago real estate salesman named Leonard Yaseen moved east and created the Fantus Factory Locating Service. It would long dominate perhaps the most obscure yet powerful consulting niche in U.S. history. (11/25/2018)
Good Jobs First: Amazon HQ2, HQ3 Subsidy Awards Costly, Not Yet Fully Accounted For — The taxpayer costs of these two deals is high, both in absolute terms and on a per-job basis, contrary to Amazon’s artful spin. Together, we believe they exceed $4.6 billion and the cost per job in New York is at least $112,000, not the $48,000 the company used in a selective and incomplete press release calculation. (11/14/18)
Good Jobs First Statement on Amazon HQ2 Site Location — As we documented in a study last April, the Crystal City and Long Island City subsidy offers are among the many HQ2 bids that remain completely hidden. Citizens have no idea what their elected officials have promised to a company headed by the richest person on earth. (11/6/18)
HQ2 Employees Might Unwittingly Pay Their Taxes to Amazon — We know for sure that notorious “paying taxes to the boss” subsidies are on the table in several HQ2 bids and may be hidden in others (CityLab, 6/15/18)
Will Amazon’s HQ2 Auction be a Community Benefits Game-Changer, or a Monument to High-Tech Arrogance? — This is a distilled version of our “Public Auction, Private Dealings” study below. (Site Selection, 4/2018)
Public Auction, Private Dealings: Will Amazon’s HQ2 Veer to Secrecy Create A Missed Opportunity for Inclusive, Accountable Development? As Amazon visits the HQ2 finalist locations, we detail how little is known about those 20 first-round bids. Billions are at stake, yet only two bids are fully disclosed and six are completely hidden. Of those partially disclosed, tax-break offers are often heavily redacted. (April 2018)
Good Jobs First’s Statement on Maryland’s $8.5 billion bid for Amazon HQ2 — $4.9 billion of the bid consists of HQ2 employees “paying taxes to the boss.” (4/4/18)
Statement on HQ2 “Short List” Announcement — “To the elected leaders of the 20 localities, we say: This is not your grandparents’ site location deal. You should cooperate and communicate freely with each other, to avoid overspending and to strengthen your bargaining hand.” (1/19/18)
To Meet Amazon’s Tax Break Demands for HQ2, Will Cities Get Steamrolled or Win Community Benefits? There are two pots of money the online retail behemoth could try to grab, each of which could effectively give the company a negative tax rate. (Fast Company, 10/17/17)
Our HQ2 Wishlist — More than 130 community-based organizations send an open letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, detailing demands for Community Benefits, accountability and transparency, and no tax dodging. (10/17/17)
Memo to Mayors Courting Amazon’s HQ2: Now’s the Time to be Stingy and Smart — Public officials should unite and demand Amazon pay its taxes and agree to community benefits, we argue. (Fast Company, 9/27/17)
Amazon’s HQ2 and the Rise of Big-Ticket Megadeals — We had just submitted this article on why 9- and 10-figure “megadeals” are so persistent (despite low unemployment) when the HQ2 bombshell hit. (CityLab, 9/11/17)
Good Jobs First Statement on Amazon’s announcement of new headquarters — Taxpayers should watch their wallets as the trophy deal of the decade attracts politicians to a hyper-sophisticated tax-break auction. (9/7/17)
Taxpayer Subsidies for Warehouses and Data Centers
Amazon Tracker: Counting Subsidies to Amazon — Our running tally of subsidies to Amazon warehouses, data centers, offices, film productions, etc. It is based on news articles and public transparency websites. Increasingly, we find the company is trying to hide tax-break details.
Amazon’s Economic Development Subsidy Awards in Subsidy Tracker Database. This data comes from publicly available sources, such as state and local transparency portals or program annual reports.
Will Amazon Fool Us Twice? Why State and Local Governments Should Stop Subsidizing the Online Giant’s Growing Distribution Network —First, Amazon gained market share by dodging the collection of sales tax. Then, as its Prime business model evolved (with rapid delivery) such that it couldn’t avoid building warehouses in most major markets, it created a tax-break office to get subsidies for facilities that it had to build. (December 2016)
Money Lost to the Cloud: How Data Centers Benefit from State and Local Government Subsidies — Amazon Web Services, Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook and have been awarded more than $2 billion, and 11 data center megadeals cost $1.95 million per job on average. “Cloud computing” has become an internet imperative, yet 27 states have enacted data center-specific tax exemptions. (October 2016)
Blog: Amazon’s 100,000-Job Claim: Will Taxpayers Bankroll Retail Job Churn? — We expand on the issue of Amazon’s alleged “job creation” amidst catastrophic job loss in bricks and mortar retail and resulting commercial real estate effects. (1/18/17)
Memo to Politicians: Bargaining for an Amazon Warehouse? Turn the Tables! — Amazon should pay to arrive — not be paid — we argue in an advice column. (Bloomberg BNA Daily Tax ReportTM 7/25/17)
Advice for Journalists Covering Amazon
Reporters’ Tip: Amazon and Retail Job Churn — Including links to more than 40 states’ WARN Act notices (60-days’ advance notice of a business closure) so reporters can see which local stores are closing because of e-commerce, of which Amazon is about half.
Investigative Tipsheet for Amazon HQ2 Bids — Our advice on uncovering the politics and tax breaks in HQ2 bids. (November 2017)
MuckRock, a cooperative hub for investigative journalists, has posted FOIA results (such as they are) for all 238 HQ2 bids.
Our Favorite Amazon Resources from Others
The best books on Amazon and its founder Jeff Bezos are The Everything Store (2014) and Amazon Unbound (2021) by Brad Stone. The second book covers the site selection process for HQ2.
An Oct. 2020 investigative piece from WEBZ Chicago shows that Amazon’s expansion in Cook County (Chicago suburbs) has been supported by at least $741 million in subsidies. The article also exposes racial divide: Amazon gets more in subsidies from poor minority communities than from wealthier white communities.
In “Low Cost Housing Needed to Prevent the Displacement and Gentrification of Low-Income Latinx Neighborhood Near Amazon HQ,” Tenants and Workers United and George Washington University show that state and local governments and private philanthropies must be focused on particular and unique needs of current residents living near HQ. (July 2019)
The Institute for Local Self-Reliance has issued numerous studies, articles and podcasts examining Amazon’s impact on small business, entrepreneurialism, local communities and wages. ILSR’s work on Amazon’s predatory treatment of its third-party sellers is also especially notable.
The Open Markets Institute’s Lina Khan’s influential essay “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” on the need for U.S. anti-trust law to keep pace with high technology.
Big Tech, Desperate Cities — A terrific July 2018 series in the Guardian includes an installment on Amazon’s presence in Seattle.