For nearly two hours, Liu spoke about state legislation and took questions about a variety of contentious issues, including marijuana legalization, closing Rikers Island and single-payer health care.
But perhaps the most controversial was his comments about Amazon’s departure in a room full of business leaders. Liu criticized the HQ2 deal for giving a discount to one of the largest corporations in the world.
“This is a classic example of how big behemoth businesses get subsidized at the expense of small businesses,” he said. “They’re simply getting a 10 percent discount.”
“How many of you get a 10 percent discount on your tax bill?” Liu added. “So when you look at it from my perspective, it’s not actually such a great deal because that 10 percent discount will not end with this company.”
The state senator argued that other companies that New York tries to entice would start demanding the same terms. Then existing companies will want a tax break, or threaten to leave, he predicted.
“Therein lies the quandary, who gets a discount?” he said. “By the way, it’s always going to be the biggest corporations who get the discount. They will always come at the expense of small business owners.”
Liu said the majority of people in New York work for small businesses, which need more help to thrive. A reduction in the small business owner’s tax bill would allow him or her to reinvest that money and create even more jobs, he said.
“In the end, that is the best way to have a vibrant, diverse, well-rounded and solid economy that will be sustainable for years to come,” he said. “Not based on these one-off deals with this company or that corporation, but an overall leveling of the playing field.”
The former comptroller and City Council member then shifted to education. Liu chairs the State Senate’s committee on New York City Education.
He said education is the “best economic development investment” that government can make. To make his point, he again pointed to Amazon, and why the e-commerce giant chose New York instead of other states that offered more subsidies.
The company chose Queens because of its well-educated and skilled workforce, Liu said, so that’s where government should focus its investments.
“Even though we worry about the future of education, the reality is, I think our education is actually pretty darn good compared to many other states,” he said. “Hence, giving us that comparative advantage. Hence, cluing us in on where that additional money should be invested.
“Let’s not take a short-sighted goal, let’s do the long play,” Liu added. “The long play’s always going to be education, equal opportunity, equal treatment for businesses of all sizes.”
On the issue of legalizing marijuana, Liu said the proposal should be examined and considered. As comptroller, he studied the issue and found himself favoring decriminalization because the “medical community agrees that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol.”
He added that the current prohibition of marijuana doesn’t work, and that many people who are buying weed get it from criminals.
“We should take the criminal element out of it, regulate it, tax it and generate significant revenue,” he said.
When asked about his position on closing Rikers Island, the state senator said while he doesn’t want to put jails in anyone’s community, he believes Rikers Island is a “boondoggle.”
“I do believe some reform is necessary,” he said. “Rikers is not sustainable, and it’s wasting a lot of money.”
As for single-payer health care, Liu said he supports the proposed legislation in the state, but doesn’t foresee it going anywhere because of the price tag.
He argued that a single-payer system would be more efficient because it would eliminate costs for administration overhead, and instead use more funds to help people.
“But practically speaking, I don’t know if it has any momentum,” he said.