County Board Member Erik Gutshall’s March 16, 2019 closing remarks following the Board’s unanimous vote to approve a performance agreement with Amazon for HQ2.
Erik Gutshall comments on Amazon Incentives
Today I voted to follow through on our bid to invite Amazon to bring at least 25,000 jobs to Arlington, helping to reverse pugnacious office vacancy and restore our commercial tax base so that we may better meet the significant challenges we face like housing affordability, crowded schools, and lagging investments in transportation. My support for designating 15% of the growth in our hotel tax over the next 15 years to Amazon is not an endorsement of the gross inequities that exist in our American society. On the contrary, I don’t see this Performance Agreement as a sell-out, but rather a buy-in by Amazon to partner with us in creating the next chapter in our great progressive success story.
Arlington’s story has long been rooted in excellent citizen-driven planning. While I laud the hard work of our amazing staff to bring this deal to fruition, the seeds of this deal were sown long ago with vision and persistence by staff, community leaders and past Boards. Now it’s this Board’s opportunity to define the future of our wonderful little County.
To be clear, our future, with or without Amazon, is not without risk. For all our efforts to honor our diversity, we have fallen behind the goals of our Affordable Housing Master Plan. We have the top school system in the country, but struggle to build new schools fast enough or pay teachers enough to live here. We built this city on Metro, but have watched rail and bus ridership plummet as service degrades, affecting low-income residents most.
I pledged that I would not support any deal that was not clearly an overwhelming win for Arlington. My vote today is a vote to affirm the power of our own resolve to find solutions to our challenges. It’s a vote that recognizes that all our plans, values, and vision, without the tax base to fund them, amount to nothing more than wishful thinking. Count me among those who want to transform our national and global economy to work for people, not corporations, but also count me today as willing to offer a small sliver of future tax revenue with a 14-to-1 return on investment to reinvest in affordable housing, schools, transit, parks, and other community infrastructure.
The deal is structured so that our 14-to-1 return worth 100s of millions of new dollars is guaranteed. What is not guaranteed is how Amazon will follow-through on this partnership. While I am optimistic that Amazon has every intention to join us in fulfilling our vision to be a diverse and inclusive sustainable community where each person is important, I understand the trepidation of those residents who worry that our action today does not include specific written commitments from Amazon. We haven’t “gotten it in writing,” on key issues like fair labor practices, net-zero energy buildings, and affordable housing. Fortunately, this is just the beginning of our shared story, and I do fundamentally believe that Amazon will conclude that what’s in our best interest is in their best interest. I have to rely on that they should want to raise the bar, not slide under it, demonstrating how our employers can be true partners for catalytic game changers that deliver the quality of life their employees, our residents, need to thrive.
I have supported the right of those who strongly oppose this deal to make their case. I have heard them and I understand their fears. In the end, there is just no way that I can find that the answer to lack of upward mobility, income inequality, or a society where the rich pay to cheat their kid’s way into college, is to tell Amazon to take their good-paying jobs and go somewhere else. Instead, I’m pleased to cast my vote in support of welcoming Amazon to Arlington.