Phil Bredesen Picked Winners and Losers on Taxpayer-Funded Electric Cars

Phil Bredesen

Eight years ago, then-Tennessee Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen said that during the coming decade we’d see a surge of electric vehicles on the state’s roads and highways.

So certain of it, he handed out $2.5 million in government money to encourage people to buy EVs.

But we’re not talking about all EVs. Nope, we’re only talking about the Nissan Leaf, manufactured in Smyrna.

People who bought the Chevy Volt or any other brand of EV did not qualify. At the time, a Franklin-based businessman who sold electric cars complained he got shortchanged as well. That businessman, Josh Womack, said Bredesen, in this instance, picked winners and losers.

Now that the decade is nearly out, evidence indicates Bredesen, now the state’s U.S. Senate Democratic candidate, was no visionary.

In 2018 the Daily Caller reported EVs aren’t popular and only people with six-figure incomes generally have them.

No one at Bredesen’s campaign returned The Tennessee Star’s request for comment Monday.

As the Tennessee Watchdog reported in the fall of 2010, just as he was leaving the governor’s office, Bredesen announced a rebate to the first 1,000 Tennessee residents who bought the Leaf.

Specifically, that was a $2,500 rebate to the first 1,000 people who bought it. Tennessee residents who paid for the Leaf also received a federal tax credit of $7,500. That equated to a $10,000 government-funded deduction for some people for a car that, at the time, cost $34,000.

Franklin-based businessman Josh Womack, who converted gasoline-powered vehicles into electric-powered ones, said Bredesen acted unfairly.

“The governor just said ‘I’m going to give taxpayer money to one specific company,’” Womack told Tennessee Watchdog.

Bredesen and members of his administration paid for the rebate using fines the U.S. Department of Energy levied against oil companies who overcharged consumers in a Petroleum Violation Escrow fund. Government officials could only use that revenue to pay for energy-related programs.

Womack said his vehicles would have cost half what the Leaf did. Thusly, the state and federal credits would have driven his EVs’ ultimate cost down to $8,000.

“If I had comparable access to that taxpayer investment, then I could have put a lot more electric vehicles on the road today. I could hire more employees too,” Womack said at the time.

“Why is the governor (Bredesen) picking just one manufacturer and wanting to divert $2.5 million in taxpayer money? Let me compete. If the government is going to meddle and incentivize, then meddle and incentivize fairly.”

Until that time, Tennessee officials, whether under Bredesen or any other governor, had never given a tax credit or rebate to state residents who purchase a specific type of motorized vehicle, Tennessee Watchdog reported.

State officials said at the time that only Nissan qualified for the rebate program as it had participated in something called the EV project. The Arizona-based ECOtality North America spearheaded that enterprise to deploy more electric vehicles around the country.

Six years later, in 2016, Womack said his company, VerdeGoh! had long since ceased operations.

As reported in 2015, Tennessee had 2,568 registered EVs on the road.

In three years, that number has increased, slightly, to 3,735 EVs. Davidson County, meanwhile, currently has 746 registered EVs, according to Kelly Cortesi at the Tennessee Department of Revenue.

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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]







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3 Thoughts to “Phil Bredesen Picked Winners and Losers on Taxpayer-Funded Electric Cars”

  1. […] As The Tennessee Star reported last fall, former Tennessee Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen said in 2010 that during the coming decade we’d see a surge of electric vehicles on the state’s roads and highways. […]

  2. […] The Tennessee Star reported last fall, former Tennessee Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen said in 2010 that during the […]

  3. John Bumpus

    Phil Bredesen was Governor of Tennessee from mid-January 2003 to mid-January 2011. In recent political television ads broadcast in behalf of his U.S. Senate campaign, Bredesen has tried to deflect from his participation and role in the refurbishment of the Tennessee Governor’s Mansion during his time as Governor.

    The following 11-12-09 news story from the online news website―The―should be of interest to the voter who would like more information about this matter. The reader should particularly note the following paragraphs in this news story: five, ten, twelve, and fourteen which differ from Bredesen’s own statement in paragraph one that the project was built with private funds.

    Conservation Hall At Governor’s Mansion Gets LEED Certification
    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    Governor Phil Bredesen and First Lady Andrea Conte celebrated the dedication of Conservation Hall Thursday night with members of the Tennessee General Assembly, former First Families, members of the State Building Commission and Tennessee Residence Foundation, and other guests. Conservation Hall, which is connected to the Tennessee Residence, was built with private funds to provide the official home of Tennessee’s First Families space to better host official functions, it was stated.

    “Now this historic home and this beautiful new facility are ready to serve the state’s needs for the next 50 to 100 years,” said Governor Bredesen. “This is a property in which all Tennesseans can take great pride.”

    First Lady Conte marked the occasion with the announcement that the Tennessee Residence has been awarded LEED certification by the Green Building Certification Institute and the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED is the nation’s preeminent program for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings. The state also plans to seek LEED certification for Conservation Hall in a separate application.

    “This is wonderful validation of the state’s work to make the Tennessee Residence more energy efficient and to reduce, reuse and recycle even throughout the extensive restoration work that has been done on the original home,” said Ms. Conte.

    More than 50 years of playing host to the affairs of the state of Tennessee took a toll on the Residence. Bredesen and Conte announced long-range plans for its restoration and preservation in November 2003. The restoration included replacing deteriorating doors and windows, updating mechanical and electrical systems, adding a geothermal system to heat and cool the building, and bring the Tennessee Residence into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    “The geothermal system has helped reduce the home’s heating and cooling costs and supports both the Residence and Conservation Hall, and many of the materials taken from the Residence during restoration have been repurposed,” Ms. Conte said.

    Textile artists from across the state used the remnants from draperies removed from the Tennessee Residence to create quilts and wall hangings. Sculptures in the home and on the grounds were created from the rocks removed during the excavation of the basement, and wood sculptures were also created using wood recovered from trees on the property.

    The Tennessee Residence achieved LEED certification for energy use, lighting, water and material used as well as incorporating a variety of other sustainable strategies. By using less energy and water, LEED certified buildings save money, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and contribute to a healthier environment.

    ‘Meanwhile, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research called Conservation Hall “a disastrous boondoggle for taxpayers.”

    The group said, “Repairs to the Governor’s Mansion began in 2005 with the worthy goal of making the residence more accessible for Tennesseans with disabilities. Unfortunately for taxpayers, Bredesen and Conte expanded the project to include a complete renovation of the home, featuring a $321,393 kitchen overhaul, $14,436 dimmer switches, nearly $11,000 for an upstairs wet bar and the addition of an entertainment venue – which became Conservation Hall. In total, the renovations cost an estimated $25 million, with tax dollars funding the bulk of the expense.”

    “The Tennessee Center for Policy Research (TCPR) pleaded with the Governor and state officials to build a new governor’s residence rather than paying millions more to renovate the mansion than it was worth,” said TCPR President Drew Johnson. “The extravagant mansion renovation was a monumental error in judgment by the Governor and an insult to hardworking taxpayers.”

    Mr. Johnson said the Governor’s Mansion was appraised in 2005 at a value of only $900,100 and the home holds no particular architectural or historical importance, serving as the governor’s residence for less than 60 years.

    He said, “Unfortunately, despite budget shortfalls resulting in the layoffs of hundreds of state employees and a reduction of government services to Tennesseans, renovation of the mansion and construction of the Conservation Hall continued.

    “Archimania, the Memphis-based architecture firm heading up the bunker project, was selected to design it shortly after the company’s owner, Barry Alan Yoakum, gave a sizable donation to Gov. Bredesen’s reelection campaign. Even worse, just weeks before the Bredesen Administration awarded a $197 million incentive package to Nissan, the automaker contributed $100,000 to the renovation project.

    “As the Governor dedicates Conservation Hall this evening, I hope he takes a moment to dedicate it to struggling single mothers whose tax dollars went to subsidize the lavish renovations, the former state employees whose jobs could’ve been saved if not for the cost of the bunker and the millions of taxpayers who will never be invited inside the mansion to see what they helped to fund.”