Friday, November 16, 2018

New York note: In defense of Bill de Blasio, don't @ me

Photo by Yeong-Ung Yang/New York Times.

My distinguished tweep Nathan Newman lays out a reasonable schema for how we should feel about the deal making Long Island City, Queens, one of Amazon's new HQ2s:
That is, it's a horrible feature of late capitalism that giant companies should be playing off localities against each other in a race to the bottom in which they award the prize to the one that allows them to exploit it the most, but given that that's the way it is, and the feds won't do anything to stop it, local authorities would be irresponsible not to see if they can get something out of it for their citizens.

I've been listening to Mayor de Blasio on WNYC radio explaining the Amazon deal under questioning from Brian Lehrer and a couple of callers-in, and he's obviously kind of defensive, under intensive criticism from everybody from Alexandria Ocasio-Córtez and Jumaane Williams to Rod Dreher and the National Review, as Roy points out at the subscription site, but I'm inclined, on the whole, to think he may have done this thing right, or at the least that he's not just kidding when he presents himself as a kind of Mitterand figure:

“There’s a whole left position that says you need development to help people achieve their potential,” he said, a tradition that stretches back to the time of Karl Marx.
“A major international corporation has their own agenda,” Mr. de Blasio said. “Meanwhile the strongest city government in America is basically a European social democracy that somehow broke loose from the continent and came here.”
“Using the power of government,” he added, “we dictate the terms in as many ways as we can. And in this case, we did that.”
What the terms are that everybody's heard about are tax breaks from the city and the state amounting to some $3 billion in return for an establishment employing 25,000 people for salaries of $150K and up, which has sounded crazy in and of itself, in that Long Island City is growing rapidly and under a lot of infrastructural strain as it is, and it's not clear how catering to Amazon's needs would do anything for anybody else except drive them out of the neighborhood, with increases in traffic and rising rents, and who says any New Yorkers are even going to get any of those jobs?

So I'm here to tell you that you're not getting the full story. It's $3 billion in tax breaks (and subsidies from the state, not the city) alongside $13-point-something billion in increased tax revenues for the city (over the first 25 years), which can pay for a lot of affordable housing and subway improvement. The subway improvement is going to have to be done for Amazon as well as for everybody else, and the street traffic is going to have to be reduced no matter what. The only difference Amazon makes to that is adding a lot of unexpected funding, and urgency, into the mix. The same goes for school development.

There's also real hope for the affordable housing, given the new city rules requiring all new housing developments to include it and the mayor's goal of 300,000 new apartments by 2026, and specific commitments for improving conditions in the 26 buildings of the Queensbridge Houses next door to where Amazon will be located, the nation's largest public housing project. Amazon will set up training centers there and has also made commitments to recruit directly in Queensbridge and the city as a whole, though I guess we'll need to see the fine print. There are clawback provisions on the tax breaks, allowing the city to retrieve money if Amazon fails to keep its promises, which is I think a pretty new thing.

All I'm saying is if it works and the details are there (get on it, City Council), it's a much better deal than these things normally are.

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