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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 2 hours ago - Science

Huge wildfire reaches edge of Sequoia National Park

A plume of smoke and flames rise into the air as the fire burns towards Moro Rock during the KNP Complex fire in the Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California, on Saturday. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Firefighters in Sequoia National Park were working into the night after two wildfires merged to reach the Giant Forest Saturday.

Why it matters: This forest contains over 2,000 giant sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree — the world's largest tree by volume. Park officials wrapped the redwoods in foil last week as the Paradise and Colony Fires, now known as the KNP Complex Fire, neared. Protection efforts appeared to be working overnight.

3 hours ago - World

Hong Kong holds first "patriots only" elections

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam during a news conference last Monday. Photo: Lui Siu Wai/Xinhua via Getty Images

Hong Kong's elections to choose the city's Election Committee members opened to a select group of voters on Sunday, under a new "patriots only" system imposed by China's government.

Why it matters: All candidates running to be members of the electoral college have been "vetted" by Beijing, per Reuters. They will go on to choose the Asian financial hub's next leader, approved by China's government, and some of its legislature.

5 hours ago - World

Israeli forces capture final 2 escaped Palestinian prisoners

An Israeli security forces member on Saturday stands guard at the Gilboa prison in northern Israel, from where the six inmates escaped. Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli forces captured the two remaining Palestinian prisoners who tunneled their way out of an Israeli maximum-security prison with four others in a "Shawshank Redemption"-style escape, authorities announced Sunday.

Why it matters: The escape sparked a massive manhunt and turned the prisoners into heroes in the West Bank and Gaza, with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza threatening an escalation if they were harmed, per Axios' Barak Ravid.

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