State ECD Department Batting .500 on Laws to Hand Out Cash Grants

State economic development officials want legislation passed this year to expand a cash grant program and close some company recruitment records. They’re at least halfway to that goal.

The House passed a bill Wednesday that broadens the definition of the “Fast Track” program. Under the Bredesen Administration, cash grants were limited to job training and infrastructure. The expansion – which has bi-partisan support – allows companies to use the money for new equipment, retrofitting buildings and even moving expenses.

Rep. Tim Wirgau, a Republican from Henry County, cautioned that his bill was not meant to create open season and that projects would be carefully reviewed.

“Let me make it very clear that we’re not going to be standing …on the Capitol steps and just doling out checks.”

Other economic development legislation would keep details about such incentive deals secret, even the ownership of companies applying for state funds. That bill isn’t dead, but it was put on the back burner in a Senate committee that has wrapped up business for the year.

Both economic development bills are part of the Haslam Administration’s legislative package.

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The bill that passed, HB 2344 McCormick/SB 2206 Norris, describes a system where companies that create jobs could apply for reimbursement for some of their actual expenses to buy new equipment. That’s a big change from the previous “fast track” uses, but both Republicans and Democrats voted for the measure.

That bill that would have wrapped similar applications in secrecy, SB 2207 Norris/ HB 2345 McCormick, was officially “taken off notice” in the Senate Commerce Committee later the same day.

That action usually means the sponsor has given up on moving it for the year.

But Commerce Committee Chair Sen. Jack Johnson, a Brentwood Republican, said he would be willing to re-open the committee to take up some bills – and the ECD “due diligence” secrecy bill was one of his examples.

That clears the way for the sponsors, and the Haslam administration, to continue trying to line up support for the bill until the end of the legislative session.

Our previous story on the bill:

ECD Bill Goes Back to Drawing Board

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