Mississippi’s Enormous Amazon Giveaway
America's poorest state will spend a fortune to subsidize one of the world's largest corporations.
By Paul Blest, More Perfect Union
Perhaps no state in the country needs a burst of public investment more than Mississippi. The Magnolia State has long lagged behind the rest of the country on public education; it’s one of the worst overall child well-being, according to last year’s KIDS COUNT Data Book; Mississippi has the worst poverty rate in the country; and almost half of its rural hospitals are at risk of closure. Oh, and a state audit last year found that top officials in the last gubernatorial administration redirected $77 million in welfare funds toward rich and powerful people including Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre.
The existence of so many problems for working people in Mississippi makes it even more bewildering that the state has chosen to give an enormous, long-lasting tax giveaway to one of the biggest corporations in the world, without telling the public beforehand who they were giving it to.
In January, Gov. Tate Reeves called an “extraordinary session” of the legislature to pass a $260 million tax incentive package for a $10 billion project in Madison County for 1,000 jobs. As part of the deal, the state will kick in $44 million, the majority of which will go to job training programs, as well as a $215 million loan to Madison County for infrastructure improvements, according to the Associated Press.
At the time, Reeves would only say that the company was one of the “top 20” in the world, and that he could only reveal the company’s identity once the legislature passed the package. Once that happened, the company was named: Amazon Web Services, the cloud giant, for two data centers in different parts of the county.
There’s a certain absurdity in government officials declining to reveal that taxpayer dollars are going to Amazon until after the legislature passes the law authorizing that funding, but Mississippi is far from alone. A 2022 American Economic Liberties Project report on the practice showed that it’s increasingly common for Amazon and other large companies to require government officials to sign and comply with non-disclosure agreements while signing away heavy corporate subsidy packages, effectively shutting the taxpayers out of the process altogether — until the bill is due, that is. (An advocacy campaign to fight such deals launched last year at BanSecretDeals.org.)
The tax deal Amazon is getting from Mississippi is a ridiculously sweet one. On top of the $44 million, Amazon won’t have to pay any corporate taxes for the first 10 years, and they ultimately could be exempted from sales taxes for as long as 30 years, as long as AWS invests $500 million annually and adds 50 jobs. The 1,000 jobs mark isn’t expected until 2034.
Amazon’s wasn’t even the first big secret tax giveaway from Mississippi this year. Just a week prior, the legislature rammed through a $365 million incentive deal for a new factory in the northern part of the state to make batteries for electric vehicles. Like the Amazon deal, it all happened in a one-day special session, and the four companies involved—three big truck companies including Daimler, and a Chinese lithium battery maker—were not publicly known until after the package passed.
During debate on the battery plant, Democrats—who largely supported both incentive packages—brought forward an amendment to require that 70 percent of the hirees be from Mississippi, which was rejected, according to the AP.
Mississippi Today noted how jarring it is that Reeves, who has taken the same hard-right line on cultural war issues as many of his fellow Republican governors in conservative-leaning states, has signed off on deals to make batteries for a Chinese-owned corporation and solar-powered Amazon data centers. It works the other way as well; Amazon proudly touts its support for abortion rights while signing a deal with a state government that not only banned abortions but pushed the case that ended the nationwide right to abortion entirely.
What else is happening in the states
A 15-year-old died on the job in Alabama. A Republican wants to undo child labor regulations: On Monday, Alabama Republican Rep. Susan Debose — self-described “Retired banker, mom, wife, and patriot” — filed a bill to eliminate a work permit that 14- and 15-year-olds need to be employed in the state.
While Florida’s push to allow bosses to put high schoolers to work full-time during the school year has garnered more attention, Alabama’s bill is part of a nationwide, coordinated effort to undo our already deeply inadequate child labor regulations.
One example of how inadequate these laws (and the penalties for violating them) are: just one day after Debose filed her bill, an Alabama construction company was fined $117,000 in federal child labor violations for illegally employing a 15-year-old who fell off a roof more than fifty feet to his death. It had been the boy’s first day on the job (Allowing a minor to work on a roof is a blatant violation of federal law, despite a now-abandoned Florida effort to allow this.)
The Department of Labor assessed more than $8 million in penalties for child labor violations in 2023. But as several investigations over the past year have shown, it’s highly likely that those penalties are only scratching the surface of child labor exploitation in the U.S. Making it easier to put kids to work won’t fix that.
Wage theft crackdowns: Much like child labor, existing penalties for wage theft laws are largely inadequate. But Colorado has improved their laws over the past five years, and a new bill that won initial approval this week would target a sector rife with bosses who rip off their workers: construction.
The bill, HB 1108, would hold general contractors liable for wage theft when their subcontractors underpay (or don’t pay) their workers for work performed. During the hearing Thursday, Oscar Calderon, a painter who’s done work all over the state, described being cheated out of $68,000 for himself and a crew of workers who’d been on several jobs.
“My family and I had to sell so many of our belongings, like tools, vehicles, and other stuff, to pay the group of friends that helped us do the jobs,” he told lawmakers. “We didn’t have money to pay basic services… It’s been over a year and we still haven’t been able to normalize our emotional, personal, and economic situation.”
The bill passed the committee on a party-line vote, and will now head to a second committee in the Democratic-controlled House before going to the floor.
Additionally, a trio of new bills would empower state regulators to strip business and liquor licenses from any business committing more than $1,000 worth of wage theft. Read more about this from my colleagues who covered it earlier this week.
Florida’s purge of public sector unions: Last year, Florida’s legislature passed a right-wing law designed to kill unions that represent teachers, city employees, and other public sector employees. At least 33 bargaining units were decertified in January alone, according to Orlando Weekly. And now state lawmakers are debating adding even more onerous requirements for these unions to survive.
Evil quote of the week by a Florida legislator: “I have to say, being a member of four generations of citrus farmers, we know something about heat in Florida…it’s unconscionable to me that, all of a sudden, we need babysitters for everybody that works.” — Sen. Dennis Baxley, on why he supports banning local governments from enacting heat-related worker protections
What we’re reading
State lawmakers intent on making Florida the nation's corruption capital | Nate Monroe, The Florida-Times Union
New York Department of Labor Not Doing Enough to Stop Child Labor, Report Finds | Amir Khafagy, Documented
Adult dancers in Washington state want a strippers’ bill of rights. Here’s how it could help them | Hallie Golden, Associated Press
Tennessee is fastest growing state for labor unions | Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press