News & Politics

Arlington, Va. Residents Furious Over Vote to Give Huge Tax Breaks to Amazon HQ2

Amazon.com logo: Nick Ansell/PA Wire (Press Association via AP Images)

When Amazon announced that it was splitting its new headquarters between Long Island in New York City and Arlington, Va., the uproar was swift and loud, and it is not dying down. Most recently, an organization called For Us, Not Amazon released a statement in response to the Virginia House of Delegates’ vote this week to approve further tax subsidies for Amazon. The organization is worried that the presence of the internet behemoth in an already expensive area will push long-time residents of Arlington out as property values skyrocket even higher.

As a resident of Arlington who lives about two miles from the neighborhood (Crystal City) that Amazon is proposing as half of HQ2, this is not an abstract discussion for me. We recently had friends from Wisconsin visit. As they drove throughout our neighborhood, they noticed a house for sale, stopped, and the wife quickly hopped out and grabbed a sales flyer. Back in the car, she asked her husband to guess how much the house cost. Knowing that housing costs are higher in Arlington than in middle America, our friend said $300,000. Not even close.

With less than 1,800 square feet of living space and a yard the size of a postage stamp, the house was listed at just over $800,000. Our friends were shocked.

While not as high as places like Seattle and San Francisco, the cost of living in Arlington is astronomical compared to much of the rest of the country. Amazon’s invasion of the area is only going to cause that cost to go even higher. This has given many of the area’s residents (including my neighbors) the jitters. Most of Arlington’s residents are making way more money than the rest of the country, but there is a chance that Arlington will soon become too expensive even for those making north of $150,00 a year. When considering the lower-income residents of Arlington, many of whom have lived here for decades, the cost of living problem will be insurmountable.

In an email to PJ Media, For Us, Not Amazon stated, “We believe that all residents of Northern, Virginia have the right to live and stay in the communities we call home. Black, brown, poor white folks, and aging residents should be able to afford to live in Northern Virginia without pressure from developers or wealthy transplants.”

The email’s concern is in response to Virginia House Bill 2356/SB 1255 that allows Arlington County to provide Amazon with an additional $550 million in tax grants and investments. That’s on top of the already generous tax subsidy package the county has given to Amazon. While I tend to cringe at the phrase “corporate welfare,” I’m with For Us, Not Amazon on this one.

I’m all for communities lowering taxes on businesses in order to help promote economic growth by providing jobs for residences. What I’m not okay with is seeing tax dollars that have been taken from local residents and being packaged as an “investment” and given to a corporation that basically prints its own money. Arlington County should be returning that $550 million to the people that they took it from in the first place.

In a video posted to Twitter that was included in For Us, Not Amazon’s email, Arlington Delegate Alfonso Lopez says,

“We need more elected leaders who prioritize investing public, taxpayer dollars to development and projects that works for us, not Amazon.

We are disappointed that state officials chose to vote with Amazon. We hope the The Virginia governor and Arlington County Board will listen to the people and stop these corporate giveaways. We will keep fighting Amazon’s takeover of our community.”

While I agree with Delegate Lopez that our tax dollars belong to us and not Amazon, I’m not sure that I’m on board with the money being used for “development and projects.” Instead, Arlington County and the State of Virginia should lower tax rates and issue refunds to overtaxed citizens instead of handing over taxpayer money to large corporations.