New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) posed a toll hike double its usual percent, and an additional four percent hike on commuter rail and express buses, as well as eliminating the MetroCard bonus or raising fares for the subway by four percent.
The State of New York gave Amazon $3 billion. And a helipad.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) could’ve put that $3 billion toward fixing the dilapidated subway system, but is instead insisting that New York City pay half the estimated $37 billion price tag MTA needs to conduct repairs.
Just like the state and city split the $3 billion in tax incentives for Amazon — $1.7 billion from the state and $1.3 billion from the city.
“The delays are maddening New Yorkers,” Cuomo said when announcing the state of emergency. “They are infuriated by a lack of communication, unreliability and now accidents. Just three days ago, we literally had a train come off the tracks. It’s the perfect metaphor for the dysfunction of the entire system.”
But a year later, and MTA’s fare and toll hikes aren’t even getting the system out of red ink. Officials said in July that the MTA is projected to fall well short for the coming years.
Would the $3 billion investment in Amazon bring in a much-needed influx of money for the public transit system in New York City? In a word, no.
As the Intelligencer reports, the giveaway to Amazon roughly equals the amount that would be collected in income taxes from Amazon employees over the subsidy period. While Cuomo contends that this is effectively free as it gives away tax revenue the city and state otherwise wouldn’t have, that’s not exactly true.
Part of what Amazon was looking for in locations for its HQ2 was the existing talent pool in a location. That means that many of the employees Amazon is seeking already are in the New York area. And they might’ve gotten high-paying high tech jobs without giving Jeff Bezos a $3 billion windfall — Google is also expanding in New York City and is doing so without massive incentives.
And that’s without considering the way Amazon will crowd out economic activity already taking place in New York City and stress the city’s already overburdened affordable housing.
So the cost of Jeff Bezos’ helipad can be measured in the opportunities of New Yorkers to have improvements to their own commute through the city’s subways, as well as in the raw dollar value of whatever a helipad cost.
This gives some context to a cheeky quote from FiveThirtyEight’s Oliver Roeder.
“Jeff, listen, because I’m paying for your gaudy lifestyle: You take the broken-ass subway for a month, and I’ll take the helicopter,” wrote Roeder.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.