NEW YORK – Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris, the son of Greek immigrants, is a vocal opponent of the deal to bring Amazon to Long Island City. On February 5, Gianaris was nominated by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to serve on the Public Authorities Control Board which must approve the deal to bring Amazon to Long Island City before it can happen, the New York Times reported, adding that the board consists of three voting members each of whom has the power to veto the plan. If his nomination is approved, Gianaris could therefore block Amazon from building its second headquarters in Long Island City.
“Mr. Gianaris, once a longtime but largely powerless antagonist to some of Albany’s most influential players, has become one of the Capitol’s central figures,” the Times reported, adding that “Mr. Gianaris waved off the idea that the Amazon controversy had helped his political profile.”
“I would prefer if this never landed on my desk,” he told the Times, adding that “this is an inflection point about the direction of our country, and how we handle one of the greatest issues of our time.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo commented on Gianaris’ nomination to the board in a WNYC radio interview the Times reported, “I think it’s unfortunate that the Senate is playing politics here. Yes, it’s great politically to oppose the Amazon deal. ‘It’s Jeff Bezos, one of the richest people, why are we giving him a break?’”
Gianaris denied a political motivation for his opposition, noting that “there are certain people who are very focused on dealing with the unfairness of income inequality. There are others who are more worried about the wealthy and making sure we accommodate them. And they’re going to be on the other side,” the Times reported.
The governor’s office pointed out that Gianaris signed a 2017 letter inviting Amazon to New York, but Gianaris said at that time there was no mention of state subsidies in the letter and if he knew the company’s executives would oppose unionization, he would not have signed that letter, the Times reported.
In another radio interview on February 5, Gov. Cuomo said, “If the Senate is going to be the reason that Amazon leaves New York, I wouldn’t want to be running for re-election as a Democratic senator,” the Times reported.
Former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg agrees with Gianaris in his opposition of the deal, “giving Amazon as much as $3 billion in state and city incentives for the company to create 25,000 to 40,000 jobs in Queens,” the Times reported, noting that on February 5, Bloomberg “contended that Amazon chose New York for reasons other than ‘the tax breaks they got, which I didn’t think they needed.’”
In December of 2018, he had said “Let Amazon go to Manhattan, like Google and everybody else, and give us $3 billion worth of affordable housing in Long Island City,” CNBC reported.
Meanwhile, Gianaris continues his work in the Senate, announcing on February 6 that he will introduce legislation to eliminate tax breaks for capital gains when investing in federal Qualified Opportunity Zones (QOZ).
“The Opportunity Zone program was intended to help economically distressed areas but is being abused to grant tax breaks to already overdeveloped neighborhoods,” said Senate Deputy Leader Gianaris. “The state should not be made to suffer due to the misuse of this program.”
The federal tax overhaul passed in 2017 included a provision aimed at incentivizing investment in economically distressed areas. In 2018, the state was supposed designate census tracts that qualified as “Opportunity Zones” but also included other areas already suffering from overdevelopment and gentrification. Among these areas are wealthy parts of Long Island City and Astoria, among the fastest growing neighborhoods in the United States.
Investors who create opportunity funds to invest in these census tracts are able to defer large capital gains on their federal taxes. Much of New York’s tax code is linked to the federal tax code and Senator Gianaris’ legislation would prevent a massive and unjust giveaway of state resources to the wealthy.