Bonds for Industry Cause Commotion in House Debate

Tennessee lawmakers usually authorize bonds, especially bonds to underwrite new jobs, with a minimum of fuss. But a bond bill Monday night drew heated debate.

The state would borrow more than $106 million for industrial development. About $30 million would go to a Southeast Tennessee Development District to be used to underwrite the Wacker Chemie solar parts plant.

The rest would go to Shelby County, where it would be used to benefit a new Electrolux manufacturing facility.

East Tennessee Republican Frank Niceley lashed out at using the state’s credit to benefit international companies.

“When we tax businesses and individuals in my county and your county to the tune of a hundred million dollars to go into another county, to subsidize foreign companies from foreign lands, it’s easy to see the jobs that are created at Wacker. What’s not easy to see is the jobs you will no longer have in your district.”

The money tied up in paying off the bonds would be better spent at home, Niceley argued.

Representatives from Bradley and Shelby counties promised that when similar opportunities to attract jobs come to other parts of the state, they would vote for those bonds, too.

Despite complaints from a number of representatives about incentives even being necessary, the bill passed overwhelmingly – 94 to 2. It is part of Governor Bill Haslam’s legislative agenda, but it hasn’t moved in the Senate, where Speaker Ron Ramsey has questioned exactly what the state’s obligations are to the industries created in the Bredesen years.

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The bill is HB 2134 McCormick/SB 2095 Norris.

The bond bill is expected to increase state expenditures by the amount of interest which must be paid — $11 million over the first year, $173 million over the life of the bonds, of which $67 million would be interest.

Wacker in Bradley County makes polysilicon, used to make solar panel arrays.

House Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner couldn’t resist turning the tables on his Republican colleagues, who firmly backed up Haslam when the new governor stated argued that “government doesn’t create jobs.”

“This is a perfect example of government creating jobs. This is what we’re doing here. Government got involved, we got these companies to come here. This is government creating jobs through legislation.”

Republicans from Bradley and Shelby counties didn’t argue.

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