ALBANY — The Cuomo administration took credit Tuesday for retail giant Amazon opening a second headquarters in Queens, but was put on the defensive after critics said the state's $1.5 billion package of incentives to lure the company was excessive.
One assemblyman, Ron Kim, a Queens Democrat, vowed to file legislation to strip the funding from the deal, while influential Sen. Mike Gianaris, D-Queens, argued the state was "duped into offering unprecedented amounts of tax dollars to one of the wealthiest companies on Earth."
The criticisms flew after Amazon capped a 14-month search for a second headquarters by choosing to divide its $5 billion investment between a site in Long Island City, a Queens community and another local in Crystal City, Virginia. Each location is projected to get 25,000 Amazon jobs over the next decade.
Cuomo insisted the incentives will not come out of the pockets of taxpayers.
“This is a big money-maker for us," he told reporters at his Manhattan office. "It costs us nothing, nada."
The bulk of the incentive package will come in the form of $1.2 billion from the state's Excelsior economic development program, to be distributed over 10 to 15 years if Amazon meets its target of hiring 25,000 people at the Long Island City site with average annual wages of more than $150,000.
The deal was also denounced by one of the Democratic Party's newest stars, Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-Queens.
"The idea that (Amazon) will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks at a time when our subway is crumbling and our communities need more investment … is extremely concerning to residents," she said.
In soliciting proposals for its second headquarters, Amazon made it clear it wanted tax incentives and a region with a large pool of labor and access to public transportation and a business-friendly environment.
State Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, said too much secrecy surrounded New York's proposed incentives.
"I believe there should be much more transparency, particularly in the area of economic development," said Seward, adding that he also wants greater focus on luring businesses to the upstate region.
While noting he was pleased that Amazon chose to come to New York, the senator said the company is so flush with cash that it may have elected to move to the state without the generous incentives from Albany.
John Kaehny, director of the watchdog group Reinvent Albany, agreed with that assessment and questioned the Cuomo administration's eagerness to dole out state subsidies to Amazon — a package that includes a helicopter landing pad for company executives.
"This is complete political pandering and an attempt by the governor to buff his image at the taxpayers' expense," Kaehny said.
Cuomo suggested the state deserves credit for reeling in Amazon amid fierce competition from numerous states.
"Either you are creating jobs or you are losing jobs," he said.
The research director of the Empire Center for Public Policy, E.J. McMahon, argued state lawmakers should give themselves a stronger voice in how the state decides to award such incentive packages.
"They should not be giving (the governor) the discretion to do things like this, but they long have," McMahon said. "This is a giveaway to one of the world's most successful companies."
Last week, jesting about his growing desire for New York to get the Amazon headquarters, Cuomo said: "I'll even change my name to Amazon Cuomo, if that's what it takes."
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org