Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey is criticizing the administration of former governor Phil Bredesen for agreeing to deals to recruit businesses to Tennessee. Ramsey says he plans to meet with the state’s former top recruiter to find out what exactly is in those deals.
Lieutenant Governor Ramsey says the Bredesen administration went too far in handing out incentives to at least two businesses.
“I think we’re going to look very closely at things that happened in the last month of the Bredesen administration, as they handed out ninety-two million dollars, more like a little over a hundred million dollars, to Electrolux. Apparently that’s in writing, we’re gonna have to honor it but that’s pretty easy for a governor who knows he’s leaving office in a month, to do.”
That deal, and one with Amazon.com exempting sales tax, began to generate news in late January, when Electrolux demanded the state produce the incentive dollars. Ramsey says he’s invited former Economic and Community Development Commissioner Matt Kisber to brief him in private.
“He’s coming in, we’re going to meet, because I want to know – What did we agree to? What did we agree to? What’s in writing, what’s not in writing, and I want to know what we agreed to.”
Ramsey says the current administration of Governor Bill Haslam told him they hadn’t talked to the former ECD commissioner on the subject.
Ramsey also says in the future he expects that he and the speaker of the house, along with other legislators, will have to sign off on any such deals, and that business can expect audits to make sure they’ve created the jobs they promised.
The two recruiting deals became controversial – Electrolux because apparently money was promised directly to the company, not paid out for the things characterized as “fast track” incentives.
Ramsey says when money goes for training Tennesseans to become employees, or to build roads and other amenities to the development site, he approves, but a handover of cash would be wrong.
“’Cause fast-track money is doing things that government is supposed to be doing – putting in infrastructure, providing training through community colleges – I usually agree with those. It’s the one where you make an outright gift, or do a sales tax exemption that no other business in the state has, those are the things that bother me.”
The Internet bookstore Amazon.com was apparently attracted on the basis that the company wouldn’t have to pay Tennessee sales tax on items shipped to customers within the state.
Ramsey was steamed.
“There’s the whole Amazon tax issue, that they’re not paying sales tax. …I just don’t think that’s something that should ever have been agreed to, apparently it’s agreed to, we’ll honor it.”
Ramsey suggested a way to check on the job-creation claims of companies that benefit from state incentives – an audit system that so far has never been set up.
“If you say you’re gonna create 30 jobs, we’re gonna audit you in two years and see if you …created your 30 jobs. If you didn’t, we want the money back.”