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Amazon HQ2 Contenders Keep Tight Lid On Deal Terms

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As they await Amazon’s final decision on which city will become its planned second headquarters, the 20 finalists are keeping mum on the incentives they have promised the eCommerce giant if chosen.

According to The New York Times, there are concerns that taxpayers could get stuck with a huge bill to cover those tax breaks and other incentives.

“The only time the public may become aware if the city has promised Amazon incentives is if we win and then we need to get those incentives passed,” said Jared Evans, a member of the Indianapolis City-County Council.

In January, Amazon announced its 20 finalists for its second headquarters (HQ2). Austin, Boston, New York and D.C. all made the cut, as did some surprises like Columbus, Ohio.

Amazon’s preferences for its HQ2 site specify a metropolitan location, a local population exceeding 1 million people, access to a solid mass transit system, a major airport nearby and a strong enough local economy to attract and retain talented workers.

One reason for the secretiveness regarding incentives is because, in many cases, the bids were handled by local private Chamber of Commerce affiliates or economic development groups that aren’t required to make negotiations public. Many are also not covered by Freedom of Information Act or state open-records requests.

There’s also the competition factor: Some cities want to keep their proposals away from rivals’ eyes. Amazon also required the finalists to sign nondisclosure agreements to keep local groups from releasing any proprietary information.

“I don’t know what we offered Amazon in terms of financial incentives, but I believe Amazon wants to see the biggest incentive package that any city will offer them,” said Leslie Pool, a member of the Austin City Council.

The few bids that have been made public include Maryland, which offered an $8.5 billion tax incentive and infrastructure bid. And New Jersey got legislative approval to offer Amazon $7 billion in tax credits and incentives if it chooses Newark.

But the majority of cities are choosing not to disclose their proposals.

“We are not releasing documents related to Amazon HQ2. We are not subject to F.O.I.A.,” Michael Finney, the president and chief executive of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, a public-private partnership that handled the Amazon bid, said in an email. Requests to Austin, Atlanta and Indianapolis were met with similar responses.

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