‘Now we have zero’: Lieutenant governor talks misconceptions surrounding Amazon deal failure

Courtesy of Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul gave her views on the Amazon HQ2 deal folding last week — but she’s not buying some of the theories fielded by other public figures to explain the e-commerce giant’s withdrawal from its Long Island City deal.

Hochul, who saw first-hand the economic decline of the Rust Belt as a longtime politician representing Buffalo, told QNS her side of the story on Feb. 21 about officials attempting to bring a record number of jobs while competing against other states for a deal that could have pumped $27 billion into the economy over the next decade.

More than that, Hochul claims New York missed the opportunity to surpass Silicon Valley as a leader in tech jobs.

“It was painful to witness the implosion of what could have been the most significant economic development project in the history of the state of New York,” Hochul said. “It is a loss that will be difficult to recover from. The loss of revenue to the state, the loss to the suppliers, loss to the local businesses that would benefit from an infusion of workers walking into little bakeries and delicatessens. And even Queensbridge; there were a lot of people that were anxiously awaiting what opportunities Amazon could bring to them and giving them the opportunity to get real job training in skills that are highly marketable.”

After city Economic Development Corporation President James Patchett said at a business event earlier in the week that Amazon was finally turned away by the state of public transportation and lack of affordable housing, Hochul expressed skepticism.

“They seemed very happy to come here on Nov. 13,” Hochul explained. “I certainly think transportation and affordability went into [Amazon’s survey of the area]. There’s no surprise when you come to New York City that those are issues. So I don’t agree necessary, but I do think they knew that they were coming to a place of great potential, high human talent – great human capital, world-class education institutions … We are the epicenter of the world in many respects.”

Though she isn’t pointing any fingers, Hochul is convinced it was the political opposition to Amazon settling into Long Island City’s Anable Basin that drove the online retailer to back out of the deal, which the city and state had sweetened with up to $3 billion in tax incentives, promised on the condition that they brought 25,000 to 40,000 jobs.

About a week before Amazon broke it off with New York – on Valentine’s Day, no less – state Senator Michael Gianaris was nominated on Feb. 5 by senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to serve on the Public Authorities Control Board, possibly handing one of the most outspoken opponents to Amazon HQ2 the power to veto the entire plan.

“It was an opportunity for us to diversify, out of just real estate, finance, fashion and marketing, this took us into a space that we’ve been starting to get a foothold in in technology. We’ve surpassed Boston, now we’re number two in the nation in terms of tech jobs after Silicon Valley,” Hochul continued. “Nothing else would have given us the opportunity to scale it up so quickly.”

Hochul, without mentioning specific names, found much of the information circulating from other elected officials — such as Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents a district neighboring Long Island City — misleading about what New York was really offering. The $3 billion in tax incentives was not money the state was “writing a check” to Amazon for, it was money they were not going to collect later after jobs had been created.

“When you look at the colossal misunderstanding people had of this – there was not a pot of $3 billion that was being handed to Amazon that can now be used for schools and healthcare and social services. That does not exist,” Hochul said. “We were simply going to take of the $30 billion that Amazon was going to bring to our government in taxes and resources, subtract $3 billion of it. Now we have zero … I think that was lost in translation by some people who didn’t care to be honest about what we’re really talking about here.”

The state itself only offered $1.7 billion to Amazon through Excelsior tax credits, Hochul explained, claiming that what the tech giant was offered fairly routine for any business bring employment to New York.

“We do this all over the state of New York, but we just never had an opportunity with this many jobs and that’s why the numbers seemed high,” Hochul said. “We’re competing with every other state in this nation and we’ve been successful with this model.”

New York’s total of $3 billion offered to Amazon was just a small slice compared to Maryland, which offered them $8.5 billion in incentives, or New Jersey which offered $7 billion. Tennessee even made an offer, but is reportedly withholding the details of their proposal for the next five years.

“I don’t want there to be a perception that because of this one incident that we still don’t embrace the opportunity to be a global tech leader,” Hochul said. “We want to dispel the notion that this is the fate that will befall all businesses.”

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