EDITORIAL: The Amazon sweepstakes is now closed

How much money did local economic development officials promise in their effort to lure Amazon’s second headquarters to Southern Nevada? That’s all hush, hush for now. No need to let the taxpayers in on the ransom drop.

On Monday, the online retailer announced that it had received 238 bids from 54 states, provinces, districts and territories across North America trying to attract its second home. Amazon estimates that the project will create 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in local investment.

A handful of governments in Southern Nevada got together to submit a proposal backed by the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance. The Review-Journal reported Tuesday that “the alliance declined to disclose how much the state offered in tax incentives, saying that Amazon had requested that information not be made public.”

Alrighty, then.

But news reports identified the amount in a handful of other bids, including the $7 billion offered by New Jersey. Shouldn’t taxpayers affected by the subsidies have a right to know the details behind how state and local officials plan to grease Amazon’s palms?

A report in Sunday’s Review-Journal noted that tax incentives granted to lure various companies to the state will amount to about $180 million over the next two years. Yet taxpayers are routinely regaled with stories about public-sector budget shortfalls.

If Nevada makes the next cut in the Amazon sweepstakes — which is unlikely — more details will no doubt be forthcoming. And lawmakers would ultimately have to approve any incentive plan in a public setting. But the lack of taxpayer transparency at this point is disappointing, especially since the bids are all now in Amazon’s hands, and there’s no need for proprietary secrecy.

Perhaps the lucky locale that lands the new HQ will see the return in spades. The project is, after all, on a massive scale. Yet there remains something unseemly about politicians and economic development officials in 43 states dropping to their knees to bootlick Jeff Bezos and friends.

As Reason magazine reporter Eric Boehm wrote this week, “You don’t get a prosperous, thriving city by winning a single competition and being rewarded with a gargantuan number of new jobs. A prosperous, thriving city isn’t something that can be won at all. Civic officials have to create the right environment for enterprises to start, grow or relocate there.”

That’s something officials in Southern Nevada and across the state should remember the next time they advocate for higher taxes or an expansion of the regulatory state. Because as the Amazon race so clearly shows, the notion that a state’s business and tax climate don’t matter in the race to attract entrepreneurs is sheer nonsense.

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