New Lawsuit Demands Records Regarding Chicago’s Amazon Bid

A Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed Thursday against Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Office seeks “full records” regarding to the City’s bid to be selected to be the site of Amazon’s second headquarters. The lawsuit seeks copies of “any and all communications between the Mayor’s office and Amazon,” a copy of the bid submitted in response to Amazon’s request for proposals for the site, “any contracts with third-party providers for services rendered” regarding the bid, and any marketing budgets regarding expenditures.

“Rahm Emanuel and the city of Chicago have a history of secretive dealings that put Chicagoans on the hook for millions and potentially billions of dollars” said Freddy Martinez, Executive Director of Lucy Parsons Labs, who filed the suit, in a statement obtained by Visu.News. “The dreadful parking meter deal was rushed through with similar secrecy, with the result that Chicago taxpayers are facing a decades-long hangover thanks to this corporate giveaway.”

Demonstrators protesting outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s house over Chicago’s bid for Amazon’s 2nd headquarters in October 2017. Photo by Aaron Cynic

Chicago is one of 20 cities currently vying to host Amazon’s second headquarters. Despite the company’s record revenues – Amazon reported $135.99 billion in 2016 and revenues were at least up 34 percent from that in the third quarter of 2017 – cities are promising incredible incentive packages to woo the company. The State of Illinois, Cook County, and Chicago have collectively offered a staggering $2 billion, including massive property tax breaks as well as potentially allowing the company to keep income taxes employees would otherwise pay to the state. Other cities on the list have offered similar packages of tax breaks and other incentives in the hundreds of millions or billions to the company.

Giving truckloads of money in the form of tax breaks and other incentives to Amazon in exchange for building fulfillment centers doesn’t necessarily lead to broad-based employment growth, and community activists have pointed out that the money is desperately needed in other areas. A study by the Economic Policy Institute released Thursday found that though the opening of a fulfillment center does lead to an increase in warehousing and storage employment in a surrounding county, overall private-sector employment in that same county does not increase. The study also found in some cases, “small reductions in county-wide employment follow” the opening of a center.

The study also showed that tax incentive packages “likely constitute an unneeded giveaway.”

“In short these incentives are likely ineffective or, at best, an inefficient use of resources. These incentives are largely a windfall to firms that were going to locate in that spot even without the incentives, all while sacrificing revenue that areas need to invest in public goods.”

On the day of the bidding deadline in October, community activists protested outside Mayor Emanuel’s house, saying that the second headquarters would increase gentrification in Chicago’s neighborhoods.

“An Amazon headquarters in Chicago, or anywhere, which would receive billions of dollars in corporate welfare and hire mostly high paid white managers, would send gentrification and ethnic cleansing of Chicago’s neighborhoods into overdrive, said the ANSWER Coalition, who organized the demonstration. “An Amazon HQ would concretely increase Chicagoans suffering, especially for the most oppressed, in the form of lower pay and higher living expenses.”

In November, members of a union representing child care workers protested at Chicago City Hall, saying that $2 billion in subsidies could provide affordable childcare for every child and working family in the greater metropolitan area surrounding Chicago.

Protesters during a press conference in City Hall over Chicago’s bid to be the home of Amazon’s 2nd headquarters.

The lawsuit alleges that though the Mayor’s Office has released potential locations of the site, it has released little other information about the bid. It cites a deal the City of Chicago made to lease its parking meters in 2008, which resulted in higher rates for customers and a loss of revenue for the City. In November, the Mayor’s Office responded to a FOIA request from Lucy Parsons Labs saying it was partially exempt from releasing records because disclosure could result in “competitive harm,” but the FOIA lawsuit argues that since the bidding period has ended, no it renders that point moot.

Moreover, Martinez says the public has a right to know about what’s being given away, especially when it comes at the expense of resources.

“Instead of taxing massive corporations, we are seeing the chronic defunding of schools, mental health clinics, and other essential services,” said Martinez. “This corporate welfare cannot be allowed to proceed in secret and we intend to expose it.”

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