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State Grapples with Whether What’s Good for Amazon is Good for Georgia

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Jeff Graham, director of Georgia Equality, uses the prospect of losing Amazon’s new headquarters as one way to fight against a religious freedom bill in the state’s legislature.

Graham said Amazon, which said it wanted a diverse population for the site of its second headquarters, would balk at Georgia if the state had anything but an inclusive attitude toward LGBTQ people.

“Amazon has really upped the ante,” Graham told the Wall Street Journal.

Immigration reformers are also using the specter of losing Amazon HQ2 to instill fear in the hearts of the legislature. The Journal reported that several immigration-related proposals, including one to make English the state’s official language, have been branded as the “Adios Amazon” bills.

Sen. Josh McKoon told WSB-TV there is no evidence his proposal to make English the official language of Georgia would have any impact on Amazon’s decision.

“Corporations make these decisions along three lines,” McKoon said. “They decide based on tax and regulatory policies. They decide based on available infrastructure and workforce, and they decide based on how fat the economic incentive check is going to be.”

But state Rep. Pedro “Pete” Marin (D) said McKoon’s bill was nothing but a “black eye for the state of Georgia” that would only hurt the state’s Amazon bid.

“My take is, you know, we need to stop this in their tracks. We need not to have them move forward,” Marin said.

Georgia legislators are also breaking new ground regarding mass transit. For the first time, they are thinking about giving substantial state funding to an Atlanta-area mass-transit system; again, because that is what Amazon seems to want.

Atlanta is one of 20 communities on a list of semi-finalists for the new headquarters project released by Amazon on Jan. 18. Amazon representatives are now expected to visit each of the cities and narrow the list down to the top three.

If Atlanta makes it to the final three, Gov. Nathan Deal (R) said he was ready to do whatever it takes to put together an even longer list of enticements than the original bid already submitted to Amazon.

“Let me assure you that if Georgia makes the list of final three contenders for HQ2, I will call a special session so that we can make whatever statutory changes are required to accommodate a business opportunity of this magnitude,” Deal said.

What Georgia is offering is a secret, which is allowed under state law. But the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the package is thought to total more than $1 billion in grants, tax breaks and promises of transportation improvements.

However, a team of economic developers and economists, led by Richard Florida, the author of The Creative Class, is urging support for a “Non-Aggression Pact for Amazon’s HQ2” via a change.org petition campaign.

“Tax giveaways and business location incentives offered by local governments are often wasteful and counterproductive, according to a broad body of research,” the Non-Aggression Pact petition stated. “While we are supportive of Amazon’s quest to build a new headquarters, we fear that the contest among jurisdictions—cities, metro regions, states, and provinces—for this facility threatens to spiral out of control.”

“This use of Amazon’s market power to extract incentives from local and state governments is rent-seeking and anticompetitive,” the petition also warned. “It is in the public interest to resist such behavior and not play into or enable it.”

Georgia state Sen. Michael Williams (R), a gubernatorial candidate, shared that sentiment during a recent speech on the Senate floor. He cautioned those putting together the latest batch of enticements that if Amazon does choose Atlanta, they are all going to have to “pay whatever price Amazon is basically bribed with to come to our state.”

Those who lust for Amazon’s HQ2 remind Williams and other doubters that the tech giant promises 50,000 jobs, with an average salary of $100,000.

“You think the people that currently live in Georgia are going to fulfill and staff all 50,000 jobs? I highly doubt it. They’re [Amazon] going to take their executives and their employees that are currently in offsite locations across the western seaboard and relocate them here to Georgia,” Williams said.

“Now, who’s going to pay for these new people that are moving to Georgia? Who’s going to pay for the roads that they’re going to drive on?” he added. “Who’s going to pay for the schools where their kids go to? It’s not going to be Amazon, and it’s not going to be the employees that work for Amazon because they’re getting all of these tax breaks. It’s going to be us, the citizens of Georgia.”