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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Newspaper columnists are mocking cities like Chicago and Fresno, Calif., over the largesse they are offering to attract Amazon's new headquarters, from multi-billion-dollar tax abatements to more exotic handouts like the right to have its tax dollars spent only on public projects benefitting the company directly.

Why it matters: Amazon says HQ2, as it calls its planned second headquarters, will employ some 40,000 to 50,000 future workers and pay them an average of about $100,000 a year each when you include salary and benefits. "A single company is viewed as such a shiny prize that some seem ready to wave the white flag on the whole 'for the people, by the people' experiment," writes the Seattle Times' Danny Westneat. The offers are, "let's face it, the equivalent of bribes," the L.A. Times' Michael Hiltzik wrote last month.

The bidding is getting frenzied because the competition is stiff. In all, Amazon has received 238 proposals from across the U.S. and Canada. Who seems to have the inside track? The WSJ has decided it's Boston, Dallas and Washington, D.C. Axios has highlighted the attractions of Chicago, Denver, Phoenix and Minneapolis. Paddy Power, the betting website, ranks Atlanta the No. 1 contender at 3 to 1 odds; the website gives Chicago a 16 in 1 chance, and does not list Fresno at all.

Fresno's proposal, which in effect would make Amazon a super-citizen possessing outsized rights to determine how its taxes are spent, has attracted much media attention:

  • The central California city's unusual proposal offers to sequester 85% of the taxes generated by Amazon's presence — anything from sales to property taxes — in a stand-alone fund for 100 years. The money would be overseen by a body composed half-and-half of city employees and Amazon representatives, and be spent on projects benefitting the company's neighborhood and employees.
  • Taken to its logical extreme, Fresno's corporate taxpayers may no longer be asked to contribute to the general public good, but the good as they individually determine, where they are located. "Is it even legal to give a company direct sway over civic spending like that?" asks Westneat.
  • Still Fresno regards the offer as small potatoes. "It's turned into a bidding war and it's something that we will not be a part of," Mayor Lee Brand told the Fresno Bee in an October interview.

Other candidates are:

Chicago, which would let Amazon keep $1.32 billion of the personal income taxes paid by its employees. Those dollars would go back to Amazon instead of the city government, writes the Chicago Reader's Ben Joravsky. "A property tax break for Bezos means a property tax hike for the rest of us schmoes," Joravsky predicts. Newark, New Jersey appears to have offered the biggest straight-out tax break — $7 billion. Chula Vista, California is offering an 85-acre plot, valued at $100 million, and exempting the company from property taxes for 3 years. That's about $300 million in tax revenue.

Go deeper

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.

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