Toronto has more self-respect than most US cities

A modicum of self-respect.
A modicum of self-respect.
Image: Reuters/Mark Blinch
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Now that the dust has settled on Amazon’s headquarters contest, cities are starting to reveal the bids they submitted.

Of Amazon’s 20 finalists, many offered billions in taxpayer-funded incentives, as well as more creative perks, like Amazon-only executive lounges in airports and zero-interest loans to help Amazon employees purchase homes.

Chicago offered $2.25 billion in incentives. Pittsburgh proposed $4.6 billion in subsidies. Maryland lawmakers, in one of the most massive packages, approved $6.5 billion in tax incentives, as well as $2 billion in promised infrastructure and transportation spending for Montgomery County, one of Amazon’s finalist sites.

The deals have come under fire, especially in New York City, which will split the HQ2 prize with Northern Virginia, Amazon announced Nov. 13. The city will give away $1.5 billion to $1.7 billion in taxpayer cash, mostly via New York state’s Excelsior jobs incentive program. The deal was criticized by New York senator Kristen Gillibrand and condemned by congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Then there was Toronto.

The Canadian city’s bid highlighted its educated workforce, high quality of life, and diverse and tolerant society. It didn’t offer any financial incentives.

“Others may provide large subsidies and tax breaks, but like the Province of Ontario, we in the Toronto Region don’t want to play that game and frankly we feel we don’t need to play that game,” economic development group Toronto Global’s CEO Toby Lennox told CBC in October 2017.

Only one US city on Amazon’s list of finalists could say as much. Austin, Texas, reportedly offered no incentive package with its HQ2 bid. Boston also didn’t offer hefty tax incentives, but did propose $75 million in funding over 10 years to hold home prices steady, and $13 million in “workforce training grants” to build a tech talent pipeline. Indianapolis says it didn’t throw money at Amazon either, but declined to release its HQ2 submission.

Of course, there was also San Antonio, Texas, the rare US city that declined to entertain Amazon’s headquarters contest at all. “Sure, we have a competitive toolkit of incentives, but blindly giving away the farm isn’t our style,” city mayor Ron Nirenberg and county judge Nelson Wolff wrote in a joint letter (pdf) to Amazon in October 2017.

That choice is looking prescient now.