The chances of Amazon locating its second headquarters anywhere but near a large city are about as likely as prospects for a resurgence in manual typewriters. Places like Southeast Texas just aren’t going to see that $5 billion investment and those 50,000 jobs. But bigger cities in Texas are clearly in the running, and we hope that one of them lands this biggest of fish.
The cities that are competing for this prize should respect their current residents in the pursuit of new ones. Any offers made to Amazon should be made public so that taxpayers know exactly what they might be on the hook for in coming years.
Dallas, Austin, Houston and El Paso have submitted their bids through regional economic developments groups. Those entities aren’t required to reveal that information and have declined to do so. They are claiming that the information would "give advantage to a competitor or bidder." In certain cases that is legal, but cities have been stretching that loophole lately to exclude more information from taxpayers.
The competition also appears to be closed, with Amazon having received 238 proposals in the U.S. and Canada – some fanciful. There is nothing more that one city can do to gain an edge over others.
Journalists have ferreted out a draft of the executive summary of Houston’s proposal, which was cash and tax incentives totaling $268 million. That’s a lot of money, even for a city the size of Houston. Many Houstonians would undoubtedly like to know where it will come from.
Some cities have been more open about their bids. Boston’s offer included $75 million for affordable housing for Amazon employees and others. Information like that helps residents understand the approach being taken in their name – and, for example, whether that housing could be built anyway.
The Texas attorney general’s office has been asked to rule whether some or all of the information in the bids by Texas cities can be released. For this competition and any future ones, the answer should be one that focuses on disclosure and accountability.
If tax dollars are being dangled to Amazon or any company, taxpayers should know about it.
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