Amazon’s secret pickpockets

Amazon’s secret pickpockets

Public policy watchers cannot help but be struck by the hubris with which The Keepers of the Great Amazon Secret keep operating. That secret being just how much taxpayer money or other welcoming gifts have been pledged to lure the Internet retail giant to Greater Pittsburgh to establish “HQ2,” its second headquarters outside Seattle.

At every turn, the public’s charges have insisted they are acting in the public’s best interest by not telling that public how their pockets will be turned out to prop up the world’s third-most valuable company.

Never mind that the state’s Office of Open Records agreed with media plaintiffs that the bid indeed is a matter of public record, The Keepers of the Great Amazon Secret are using the appeals process in an attempt to run out the clock.

Worse, those pledging your money to underwrite what’s expected to be a giant dollop of corporate wealthfare are using your money to keep that dollop hush-hush.

“Don’t worry, children,” is the Amazon acolytes’ message — that information will be revealed after the Amazon deal is struck and just before deliberative representative bodies apply the backers’ rubber stamp, we are assured. Some reassurance, eh?

The latest example of we-know-best hubris comes from Phil Cynar, a spokesman for PGHQ2, which is an exercise in hubris in and of itself.

PGHQ2 is a “private” group, a limited liability corporation attached at the hip to local pols and to the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. It was set up last October to front the region’s Amazon bid. Contrarians might even proffer the word “fence.” Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Some “private” group – Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald regularly speak for it. And make no mistake, it’s clear whence PQH2Q takes its marching orders.

Witness how when the open records case came down, the group said the city and county were reviewing the ruling to determine how to proceed, the Tribune-Review reported.

But when Peduto, Fitzgerald or Allegheny Conference CEO Stephani Pashman don’t speak for PGHQ2, Cynar does.

Upon news that Amazon officials had visited the region to explore a number of proposed sites, the Post-Gazette went about shaking the trees for detailed information. Peduto and Fitzgerald demured. But Cynar offered this opaque enlightenment:

“We are not talking about the details of any discussions we may be having with Amazon. That’s just the nature of business investment projects.”

Perhaps if you’re a truly private business investing in a new business or expansion. But it’s a different story when you’re a dubiously created government front in what has all the appearances of an effort keep from the public the public’s business and, outrageously, in the name of prudent public policy.

And any time government or its assigned agent uses the phrase “business investment project” as a euphemism for transferring wealth from taxpayers to a very rich corporation, well, Pittsburgh history teaches us that a shakedown of those taxpayers is nigh.

The great late curmudgeon/contrarian H.L. Mencken comes to mind when considering the continuing charade being played by The Keepers of the Great Amazon Secret.

Said the sharp-witted observer of all things buncombe:

“Of government, at least in democratic states, it may be said that it is an agency engaged wholesale, and as a matter of solemn duty, in the performance of acts which all self-respecting individuals refrain from as a matter of common decency.”

The kind of indecency being practiced by those doing Amazon’s bidding disrespects the people whose pockets they so secretly desire to pick.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).