Virginia will become the latest state to happily throw piles of taxpayer cash at one of the nation’s most profitable companies.
Last week, the state Senate passed an incentive package worth $750 million by a margin of 35-5. On Monday evening, the House voted to pass the tax breaks by a wide margin of 83-16; the vote in the House was preceded by just nine minutes of debate, per the Washington Post, with only two lawmakers speaking publicly against the act of corporate welfare. The legislation now heads to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat who has said he will gladly hand over nearly a billion dollars of taxpayer money.
The bill will hand Amazon cash grants worth $22,000 for every new full-time job up to 25,000 jobs; for the next 12,850 jobs, Virginia will gift Amazon $15,564 per employee. The only stipulation is that the jobs must come with an average salary of $150,000.
While both votes in the state chambers were landslides, they weren’t totally free from opposition. During a Jan. 20 town hall focused on the Amazon tax breaks, Del. Lee Carter, a Democrat from Manassas, pointed out that Amazon simply chose to locate its two new Eastern seaboard headquarters closer to two of its biggest customers—the Pentagon and Wall Street. Carter also decried the idea that Northern Virginia was in need of the facility, instead pointing out that it would exacerbate the area’s growing affordability issue. (Carter has been one of Virginia’s sole sane voices on the issue of labor rights and corporate welfare.)
“We don’t have a joblessness problem,” Carter said at the town hall. “We have an affordability problem, and cramming more jobs into Northern Virginia makes that problem worse.”
Carter’s points were echoed by Del. Alfonso Lopez, a Democrat from Arlington, who warned the Post that the new headquarters would only push poor Virginians further out from the region.
“Folks are worried that they and the other low-income families are going to be priced out of the area’s home-owning and rental markets,” Lopez told the Post. “I’m concerned about the impact on my community and our residents now, not on the benefits that we might see in five, seven and 10 years.”
Likewise, Ashley Nelson, a teacher at Ward Elementary School in Richmond, spoke with Governing on Monday evening while she and dozens of other Virginia schoolteachers protested the gift to Amazon outside the state Capitol, pointing to the underfunded status of the state’s education system. According to Good Jobs First, a government accountability nonprofit, Virginia’s local and state governments ceded $147 million in tax incentives in 2017.
“It’s just a slap in the face,” Nelson told Governing. “I’ve worked at schools where we don’t have toilet paper, where I’m spending my [own] money to buy soap for my classroom, where I buy all of the school supplies. To see a company that already has billions in profit every year is getting a tax break three times the increase they’re giving education—it’s just an absolute slap in the face.”
Meanwhile—if you’re still on the fence about how much Virginia lawmakers care about the working class—the same day the Senate voted to hand money over to Amazon, they voted in a 21-19 vote to kill a proposal to raise Virginia’s minimum wage from its current embarrassing rate of $7.25 to $15.