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Pawar proposes claw-back clause, robot tax to guard against Amazon automation

Amazon shipping boxes

Amazon had invited cities to compete to become the site of its second North American headquarters. It picked two winners, but now lawmakers in one of those states — New York — are having second thoughts. | AP file photo

If New York political resistance allows Chicago to re-enter the Amazon sweepstakes, it should do so only after protections are in place to hold the company to its job-creating promises and penalize it for automation, the City Council’s crusader against income inequality said Monday.

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), a candidate for city treasurer, is scheduled to hit the airwaves Tuesday with his first TV commercial highlighting the role he played in raising Chicago’s minimum wage and pushing for a universal basic income pilot program to lift people out of poverty.

Now, he plans to use the last three months of his final term as alderman to introduce two Amazon protection ordinances.

One would “claw back” taxpayer subsidies given to companies that relocate in Chicago in the event that automation causes the number of jobs created to fall below the number promised at any time during the life of the redevelopment agreement.

The second would be what Pawar calls a “robot tax.”

It would levy a hefty penalty — possibly equal to the annual salary paid — for every job automated after the redevelopment agreement expires.

The money would go toward workforce development, “subsidizing direct employment” and social services, Pawar said.

Ameya Pawar endorsement city treasurer 2019 mayoral election rich hein

Ald. Ameya Pawar is interviewed by Fran Spielman at City Hall in November. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

“A lot of the jobs Amazon is going to create — even the $100,000-a-year jobs — are gonna be in spaces that they’re gonna automate in the next five to 10 years,” Pawar said Monday.

“You think it’s just about blue-collar manufacturing jobs. You think it doesn’t apply to you. But automation is coming up and down the spectrum and there needs to be a response to that from government.”

Last year, Emanuel and now-former Gov. Bruce Rauner joined forces on a $2.25 billion incentive package aimed at luring Amazon and offered up 10 sites in and around Chicago’s downtown.

In mid-November, Chicago appeared to have lost the heated competition.

Amazon announced the economic development plum of the century known as HQ2 — with a $5 billion investment and 50,000 six-figure jobs — would be divided between Crystal City, Va. near Washington, D.C. and the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, N.Y.

But that was before the Washington Post, owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, reported that the company was reconsidering its decision to locate half of its second world headquarters in New York because of political resistance to the state’s $2.8 billion incentive package.

That prompted Emanuel and newly-elected Gov. J.B. Pritzker to renew their $2.25 billion pitch to Amazon.

Pawar is abiding by a self-imposed two-term limit and running for city treasurer on a platform to create a public bank that just might be a potential source of funding for a universal basic income pilot that would pay 1,000 Chicagoans $1,000-a-month with no strings attached.

He has also floated a plan to sell or give away shares in Chicago’s water system to city residents and pay them dividends, just as Alaska residents receive an annual dividend from their state’s oil riches.

Pawar has also proposed using city employee pension funds and city investments to help solve the student loan crisis that has dramatically impacted his own household of three.

His first TV commercial highlights his role as a local leader in the fight against income inequality, which he calls “the issue of our day” and a “threat to our democracy.”

“When you shut out all the noise, you can hear their stories. Families, some like mine, who came here with nothing. People just looking for a fair chance,” Pawar, chairman of the City Council’s Asian-American Caucus, says over a video that shows him walking down the street in between shots of a fire engine racing to an emergency and an L train going by.

“As alderman, fighting income inequality has been my priority. We raised the minimum wage, and we took on the mayor to keep neighborhood schools open. As city treasurer, I’ll create low-interest loans for affordable housing and to start new neighborhood businesses. I’m Ameya Pawar. Let’s write Chicago’s next story together.”

The commercial, titled “Noise,” will run through the Feb. 26 election, thanks to a “substantial buy” that senior strategist Hanah Jubeh claimed was “five times greater” than that of rival Mellissa Conyears-Ervin, wife of Ald. Jason Ervin (28th).

But, the Conyears-Ervin campaign said its commercials are running on radio, commercial and cable television and will continue through election day. Pawar’s buy may well be twice as big as Conyears-Ervin on commercial TV. But, he has no ads running on cable or radio, Conyears-Ervin spokesman Nick Wilbat said.