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Is pursuit of Amazon worth it?

POSTED: February 5, 2018 12:21 p.m.

The push to attract Amazon’s second corporate headquarters continues, with no letup.
The latest development is that Atlanta made Amazon’s first cut as part of a list of 20 locations under consideration for that headquarters, which will supposedly create up to 50,000 jobs.
“Getting from 238 to 20 was very tough — all the proposals showed tremendous enthusiasm and creativity,” Amazon executive Holly Sullivan said. “Through this process we learned about many new communities across North America that we will consider as locations for future infrastructure investment and job creation.”
Amazon executives have said they will spend $5 billion to develop this second headquarters, an amount that has drawn Georgia into the bidding frenzy.
State officials have indicated they would offer financial incentives worth more than $1 billion to lure Amazon here. If Georgia should make Amazon’s final short list of two or three sites, Gov. Nathan Deal has promised to call a special session of the General Assembly to pile on even more enticements.
“Let me assure you that if Georgia makes the list of final three contenders for HQ2, I will call a special session so that we can make whatever statutory changes are required to accommodate a business opportunity of this magnitude,” Deal said.
Even with its willingness to shell out that huge sum of money, Georgia is way down the list. Chicago reportedly is preparing a $2.25 billion package of incentives, Philadelphia will go to $3 billion, and Newark/New Jersey is offering the largest combined incentive package: $7 billion in tax breaks over 20 years.
Could any business project, no matter how many jobs it allegedly creates, be worth all those wads of taxpayers’ money?
There are some dissenting voices who wonder about that.
State Sen. Michael Williams (R-Cumming) questioned the wisdom of a huge Amazon payout in a speech on the Senate floor.
“What do we get for this billions of dollars?” Williams asked. “Jobs. We hear about jobs, jobs, jobs, 50,000 jobs.”
“You think the people that currently live in Georgia are going to fulfill and staff all 50,000 jobs? I highly doubt it. They’re (Amazon) going to take their executives and their employees that are currently in offsite locations across the western seaboard and relocate them here to Georgia.
“Now, who’s going to pay for these new people that are moving to Georgia? Who’s going to pay for the roads that they’re going to drive on? Who’s going to pay for the schools where their kids go to? It’s not going to be Amazon and it’s not going to be the employees that work for Amazon, because they’re getting all of these tax breaks. It’s going to be us, the citizens of Georgia.
“I like to ask people that are talking to me about Amazon, do you really want Amazon to come if you knew there’s a possibility that your property tax would go up 50 to 75 percent in the next two, three, five years? Is it worth it to you then?
“I would like to encourage the leaders of our state that are currently negotiating with Amazon to remember the people of Georgia. To remember those whose money you are spending. It is our tax money and it’s us, the citizens of Georgia now, that are going to have to pay whatever price Amazon is basically bribed with to come to our state.”
Williams makes some valid points, but they will undoubtedly be ignored in the ongoing rush to try to attract Amazon at any price.
Prior to the legislative session, people like House Speaker David Ralston vowed they will try to revive the fortunes of rural Georgia, where people and businesses have been steadily leaving for years.
Instead of spending $1 billion that will go straight into Amazon’s corporate coffers, why not spend $200 million to expand Medicaid coverage? That would draw down billions of federal dollars that could keep financially struggling rural hospitals in operation.
Instead of stuffing $1 billion into the pockets of Amazon executives, why not spend $200 million to help bring internet access to the badly under-served areas of rural Georgia that are cut off from the information highway?
If legislators are serious about helping the rural part of the state, they can prove it here.

Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an internet news service at gareport.com that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached at tcrawford@gareport.com.

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