I live tweeted @theseventhstate last night’s excellent Montgomery County Women’s Democratic Club Forum held at the Silver Spring Civic Center. Candidates for the gubernatorial nomination agreed on many issues. One where they clashed was the merit of state incentives to woo Amazon.
Candidates Opposed to Amazon Incentives
Businessman Jim Shea called Amazon incentives “a really bad idea” and attacked giving $8.5 billion to the richest man in the world along with recruiting business from other state more generally. Moderator Robert McCartney interjected to laughter, “Careful, he’s my boss.”
Krish Vignarajah was also vehemently against the incentives, and attacked Gov. Larry Hogan for moving on this while letting Baltimore kids freeze during the winter, a comparison she also made at the Takoma Park debate. “This is the insanity of our governor.” As in many answers, Vignarajah combined passion on the issue with a sharp argument.
Former NAACP President Ben Jealous also opposed Amazon incentives. Consistent with his approach on other issues, he staked out the most left-wing position. Jealous not only agreed with other candidates on the need for diversity provisions, he also wants to see labor agreements.
My take: One follow-up question left unasked of Shea, Vignarajah and Jealous is how one could require diversity, labor or other requirements without incentives. Alternatively, is the implicit choice just to let Amazon go elsewhere? If that is the case, would future Amazon employees be better off located in a place without these protections?
Candidates Supportive of Amazon Incentives
Pointing out that Discovery was about to leave two blocks away, Rich Madaleno called Amazon a “game changing investment.” At two-thirds the size of the state government, it would help diversify our economy away from dependence on the federal government. He explained that Amazon only gets $5.5 billion if they spend $140 billion in salaries in our area. Madaleno is proud the General Assembly passed legislation to make sure companies are held accountable on promised diversity and benefits.
County Executive Rushern Baker was candid that Prince George’s had tried to recruit Amazon, explaining that the idea was to build local businesses around it and gain revenue. At the same time, he criticized the Governor for ignoring building business except the FBI and Amazon. This point foreshadowed Alec Ross’ later contention that Larry Hogan would completely ignore the DC suburbs if reelected.
Alec Ross took a somewhat nuanced position. He said that he would’ve negotiated a different deal but hopes Amazon comes here. He cited his running mate’s business, well-regarded Denizens Brewery located nearby in Silver Spring, as an example of a great small business. Ross said we make it too hard for small business in Maryland, and need to think more about how to make Maryland the place businesses grow and prosper. His campaign tweeted an op-ed that Ross wrote on the topic that nicely gives a chance hear these ideas fleshed out.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said he did not submit a bid for Baltimore County because he thought Baltimore City was the best location. Arguing that we need a nominee with a track record of experience, he wants to focus on job skill training to attract businesses and get people jobs.
My take: This is one issue that split the electeds who have had to directly grapple with this issue from first-time candidates (with Ross as somewhat of an exception). Montgomery’s economy sure could use a jump start and Amazon is an unusually big opportunity, so I tend to agree with trying to recruit Amazon. Though not perfect, Maryland’s process was also unusually transparent compared to other jurisdictions and got buy-in from the legislature.
Nevertheless, I understand why opponents don’t like it. Wooing business with money is often a mistake. In particular, football stadiums are a real money loser. I support Del. David Moon’s fine bill to prevent Maryland, Virginia and the District from competing this way.
Note: As I have mentioned repeatedly, I’m a supporter of Rich Madaleno. While it seemed worth mentioning here, I do my best to call them as I see them, and give an honest portrayal of the positions of all candidates here.