State's top economic development chief defends Amazon deal

Posted at 12:14 PM, Feb 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-12 12:14:30-05

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The Cuomo administration's top economic development official defended the deal to bring one of Amazon's second headquarters to Queens, telling state lawmakers Tuesday that the project is "unprecedented" in New York state history in terms of jobs it could create and tax revenues it could generate.

Pushback against Amazon by influential politicians in the Senate and New York City Council has reportedly left company officials rethinking their Queens plans.

Howard Zemsky, head of the state's main economic development agency, said during a state budget hearing in Albany that the 25,000 to 40,000 jobs Amazon is promising for Queen's Long Island City neighborhood has no comparison among all the other publicly funded development deals reached in New York.

"There's nothing we can equate this to in the history of the state," Zemsky said. "It's the largest economic development prize we've ever had."

The deal New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo brokered with Seattle-based Amazon last year calls for the company to receive about $3 billion in city and state tax incentives and other subsidies, something that has been criticized by fellow Democratic politicians as well as Republicans. Zemsky got a taste of that during the hearing as members of the Senate and Assembly questioned him about offering so much to lure one of the world's richest companies when other priorities — public transit, education, housing — could use additional funding.

"Is it worth the money?" asked Sen. John Liu, a Queens Democrat.

Zemsky responded that it is, saying the city and state revenues from Amazon new campus are projected at $27.5 billion over 25 years.

"There's no $3 billion fund that Amazon's tapping into," he said, adding that the company will get the incentives only when it reaches stated job creation and payroll goals.

Before Zemsky spoke, college students and business and neighborhood leaders from Queens joined two Amazon officials at the state Capitol to voice support for the project. Wearing "NY Loves Amazon" buttons with a heart symbol representing the world "Love," they said the Amazon project would have a positive economic and social impact on a section of the borough that has seen extensive redevelopment over the past decade and has room for more.

"Queens and Amazon are a perfect match," said Brendan Leavy of the Queens Chamber of Commerce.

Cuomo has said the Amazon opposition could prompt the company to back out of the deal.

"I don't think they're bluffing. I think this is very serious," Cuomo said during an interview Tuesday on New York City public radio.

Cuomo said that while he understands criticism of government subsidies to wealthy corporations, the project will bring too many good jobs for the state to reject. He said the subsidies are a smart investment that will generate many billions in revenue.

The two Amazon officials at the Capitol news conference spoke only about the company's hiring veterans program and didn't take questions.