ALBANY — New York state lawmakers hoping they can have a say on the Amazon project may be out of luck.
A little-known state board made up of representatives of the governor and state legislative leaders that typically signs off on capital projects would not need to approve a $505 million building grant for Amazon, the Cuomo administration says.
“Not all capital grants have to go through the (Public Authorities Control Board),” said Cuomo budget director Robert Mujica, who also chairs the board.
In the case of the Amazon project, Mujica said, the $505 million will be dispersed over 15 years and tied to job creation targets.
Mujica said the state would be on the hook for $30 million in 2019 and another $30 million in 2020.
While Mujica concedes most capital projects go through the PACB for approval, he said not all do.
“It’s not required to go through the PACB,” he said.
The state budget contains capital appropriations approved each year by the Legislature. That money can be tapped for the Amazon project, Mujica said.
And if lawmakers are thinking they can simply block the Amazon money in the budget, it’s not that simple. The capital funds are in a lump sum and not spelled out, Mujica noted.
So lawmakers would have to ax all the capital funding, including money they direct, which is unlikely. Otherwise, insiders say, it would be difficult to specifically target the Amazon project.
“There’s no separate appropriation (for Amazon) required for this because we already have the (overall capital) appropriation in place,” Mujica said. “We don’t need to seek additional appropriation authority in the near term.”
The state won’t even reach the $100 million mark for capital funding for the Amazon project until 2022, he said.
The PACB is the body that wound up killing former Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s push for a new stadium for the Jets on the West Side of Manhattan.
E.J. McMahon, of the Empire Center for Public Policy, expressed surprise that the project would not have to go before the PACB.
“It’s not clear to me why that is or is not the case,” McMahon said, adding there should be clear guidelines in place.
Sen. Michael Gianaris, the Queens Democrat and a vocal critic of the state’s use of subsidies to lure Amazon, said Senate legal staffers are “poring over the documents to see what we believe is required and what’s not.”
“You can rest assured I’m going to use whatever levers are available to me to push back against this bad deal,” Gianaris said.
Meanwhile, Cuomo during a Thursday radio interview dismissed criticism of the Amazon deal as “nonsensical” from “politicians who pander.”
“This is New York, these are contentious times so I’m not surprised,” Cuomo said of the criticism during an appearance on upstate public radio’s “The Capitol Pressroom.”
Elected leaders, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Gianaris and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who both represent the Long Island City area, where Amazon will locate, have criticized the deal as secretive and needless corporate welfare to one of the world’s richest companies.
Cuomo ripped the criticism as “nonsensical just on a rational basis.”
“It’s a big, transformative move for our economy to take another step in the tech sector, which is a growing sector and diversifies our economy and is a home run,” Cuomo said.
He argued that the overall revenue for the state and city will far exceed the nearly $3 billion incentive package.
The $2.8 billion in incentives the state and city have agreed are far less than other states and cities were offering and will be heavily linked to job creation and other factors.
“By definition, you couldn’t involve a legislative process to come up with your proposal because this was an ongoing, rolling competition,” Cuomo said.
Amazon has said the 25,000 jobs coming to Long Island City will pay an average of $150,000.
Cuomo argued the state and city are not paying out the incentives, but rather offering tax savings from what Amazon would otherwise be paying in payroll and corporate taxes.
For every $1 billion in revenue for the state, Amazon is getting back $100 million, he said. “I would do that all day long,” he added.
Cuomo also recognized that the state in competing with others like Texas and Florida, which have no income taxes, had to make its offer attractive or face losing the project.
“I don’t believe we get it cheaper,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo took more seriously concerns from the community at large about the possible loss of affordable housing and the strain 25,000 new jobs can place on current services, like the subway system.
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