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Taxpayers shouldn’t subsidize Amazon’s growth

Stuart Appelbaum, President, Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, www.rwdsu.org | 9/7/2017, 3:56 p.m.
Taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing the growth of Amazon, the world’s largest internet-based retailer. Our public policy shouldn’t bend toward giving ...
Stuart Appelbaum

Taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing the growth of Amazon, the world’s largest internet-based retailer. Our public policy shouldn’t bend toward giving handouts to a company that had a revenue of almost $136 billion last year, and whose CEO, Jeff Bezos, has a net worth hovering around $90 billion, making him one of the richest people on the planet.

But outrageously, that’s exactly what’s happening across America. Governments are buying into the fallacy that using corporate welfare to attract Amazon is going to be beneficial to our communities and offset millions of dollars in subsidies. In Baltimore, Amazon received $43 million in subsidies. In Jacksonville, Fla., the subsidy windfall for Amazon has topped $26 million. Joliet, Ill. has handed the company more than $30 million in subsidies, in Kenosha, Wis., subsidies have topped $32 million, and in the state of Pennsylvania, Amazon has been granted subsidies of more than $22 million.

All told, since 2015, Amazon has benefited from at least $241 million in tax abatements, infrastructure improvements and other subsidies in dozens of places, selling the idea that when Amazon comes to town, it will help everybody. But what are taxpayers and communities getting for their money and depleted tax base?

These subsidies help Amazon drive retailers and other competition out of the market by selling products, even at below its own cost. The company is selling more and more of its own products and promoting them over the third-party goods that helped build their business model. With its own products, distribution network and ability to drive competitors out of business, we see the dark underpinnings of a vast monopoly that has the power to permanently change our economy and eliminate our choices and the free market as we know it.

The company’s taxpayer-aided growth is also bad news for working families. Not only has Amazon helped destroy an estimated 150,000 jobs in retail because of the shuttering of stores that can’t match Amazon’s prices, but also the Amazon jobs that are created are often low-wage, grueling work in poor conditions. The mind-boggling wealth of Amazon’s executives in comparison to the low pay earned by Amazon workers epitomizes the economic inequality that is hurting America’s families.

When Amazon comes to town with hat in hand asking for tax relief, our public officials need to demand quality jobs and good working conditions in return. And our policymakers need to focus on the issues that are highlighted by Amazon’s growth. Consumers need to be protected from potential monopolies, such as the one presented by Amazon, and our communities deserve fair economic return for the tax breaks and subsidies used to attract big business.

Amazon’s growth seems inevitable, but a future in which that growth is paid for by taxpayers is not. Now is the time to ensure that our public policy protects workers, consumers and our communities.