Live from Music Row Tuesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed the official guest host of The Tennessee Star Report, Grant Henry in studio to question the integrity of the administrative oversight board appointed by Governor Lee for the Ford Motor Corp. mega site in West Tennessee.
Leahy: We are joined in studio by the very dapper and professional-looking Grant Henry, the grassroots director for Americans for Prosperity. Grant, you’re going up to Capitol Hill later today.
Henry: I am right after this. And the real tragedy is that they’ll never know how truly dapper I might look right now. I guess they’ll have to use their imagination.
Leahy: (Laughs) So back to being dapper. Now we’ve had a discussion here about doing Facebook live or streaming video. I have been opposed to that idea, and the reason is that nobody needs to see me at 5:05 a.m. in the morning. (Henry chuckles)
You know what I’m saying? You were in guest hosting on Friday at 5:05 in the morning. Do you feel bright and chipper at 5:05 in the morning?
Henry: People don’t realize if you live 45 minutes away, you’re getting up at 3:15. So it’s a 3:00 day.
Leahy: It’s an early morning. But now, as the grassroots director of Americans for Prosperity, the current special session of the Tennessee General Assembly and this idea that you’re going to be looking at now, it’s three bills. We just made some news with State Representative Chris Todd.
Henry: I didn’t even know that third one, actually.
Leahy: Yes. And it is sort of interesting to me to see now talking about a third COVID-related unemployment bill. And I think the governor just dropped it into this discussion, like late yesterday or early yesterday morning.
And to me, it wasn’t really clear how this bill got into a special session that supposedly was only about the $900 million incentive for Ford.
Henry: There’s always kind of interesting ways you can sort of tweak your bills. I one would imagine, is if you make the heading of the caption, so happened to open up a portion of the code that has already opened up.
Or maybe if it’s dealing specifically with the site itself and the employees, like Representative Todd mentioned, I don’t pretend to know how it got in there. I’d actually be interested to know who’s carrying it, too. But hey, we’ll figure more out.
Leahy: As you go up to the Capitol, you leave here at 7:00 and you head straight up to the Capitol.
Henry: That’s right.
Leahy: In your dapper suit here and tie. And you go in. And now what do you do when you go up there? Who do you talk to specifically?
Henry: This special session will be talking to almost anybody and everybody, primarily focusing on the people that this bill will be running through those subcommittees, whether it’s finance or whatever other.
Leahy: So you’re going to go and you’re going to go look at the agenda and you’re going to say, where is the subcommittee meeting? And there are three separate bills now.
Henry: And two of them essentially deal with the same thing. Now, these bills and numbers, if you actually want to look at them yourself as House Bill 8001 and House Bill 8002.
Leahy: Ah ha! 8001, 8002. And then they slipped in apparently 8003.
Henry: It’s somewhere in there.
Leahy: What does 8001 do?
Henry: 8001 is the one that sets up like I’m still reading through this bill myself, but it sets up sort of the oversight committee if you will. The administration board. The people that are going to be administering.
Leahy: This is interesting because I was watching WSMV last night, and Heidi Campbell, who is a Democrat state Senator from Nashville, raised some objections to who’s on that oversight board.
Apparently, seven members were mostly appointed by the governor and the speaker, and the head of the state Senate. But it looks like it’s been primarily dominated by the governor’s appointees. That board is going to have a lot of power. And with power and money comes intrigue.
Henry: I know there are a few other organizations out there as well. Organizations that track transparency issues in particular that are having a bit of a problem with the way that this authority board that’s called the Mega Site Authority of West Tennessee Act is the actual act.
They’re having a problem with the way that this authority board is either being transparent or maybe not being as transparent as they would like. So what other groups are there?
This is the kind of stuff that interests me because, oh, you’re giving power to seven people that will be named by the governor and others. And who are they? What are their interests?
Are there any conflict of interest and what sort of public accountability will be there? Because they apparently will be in charge of administrating. Are they going to be administering all this $900 million in incentives or will come through economic development?
Henry: One would think so. A portion of this $900 million, say, $40 million for that TCAP program, which I think some people are okay with a large portion of it.
Leahy: The TCAT program is the Tennessee College of Applied Technology, $40 million for that.
Henry: That’s right.
Leahy: And this is going to be a new college that apparently will teach trade skills relevant to the making of electric batteries and electric pickups.
Henry: That’s right. And I know some people are okay with the infrastructure spending as well, which I think is about another $138 million.
Leahy: It says $138 million for building, demolition, and related work on the site. I look at that $138 million and I say, why isn’t Ford Motor doing it?
Henry: I don’t know. I don’t know, Michael, honestly. And here’s the other problem, too, with that oversight board. So Tennessee Coalition for Open Government has written a blog post recently.
Leahy: Now, who’s involved in that?
Henry: This is Deborah Fisher’s group. Deborah Fisher is the executive director over there. She wrote a blog post about who is on this board.
Leahy: I’m not familiar with that group. Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. I should be.
Henry: They track just general transparency issues in government and are doing a great job.
Leahy: How long have they been around? We are going to have to get Deborah in here.
Henry: Sure, she’d love to come on, but they’ve been around for a while.
Leahy: Been around for a while. And who backs them?
Henry: I’m not sure about that either.
Leahy: People for open government.
Henry: But she has a blog post recently where she specifically brings up issues about this board and maybe the transparency or lack thereof and how they’re spending money and where the money is going to.
In general, Michael, I think where we come from, Americans for Prosperity is simple ideas. When regulation is written to benefit one industry or company over another, the result is typically a perversion of these free-market ideals.
And our elected officials, we believe, should not be using taxpayer dollars to pick winners and losers.
Leahy: Well, let me agree. I’ve had this discussion with Crom and Crom basically says, well, it depends on the specifics of the case. And I look at it generally.
And I would say right now there may be a handful of the 99 state representatives and maybe fewer of the 33 state senators who would agree with me on this.
But I look at this and I say, okay, the state, the taxpayers in Tennessee are going to apparently cut a check for $500 million to Ford and its subsidiaries. And it looks like it’s going to be, I don’t know, maybe graduated, maybe a one-time shot.
But they’re going to keep that money for 10 years. So 10 years from today when I’m old and gray, they’re going to look and say, have you had 5,800 jobs for a year or at 90 percent of that for a full year? And if the answer is yes, they don’t have to give any money back.
But apparently, if the answer is no 10 years from today, then on a pro-rated basis, they’re going to have to give some money back to the state. Let me just say this. Just you and me here talking great.
Henry: Nobody else.
Leahy: And I’ll tell the members of the Tennessee General Assembly I’ll take that deal.
Henry: If you’re throwing cash around.
Leahy: If the Tennessee General Assembly says we’re going to give you $500 million, Leahy. And if you can create 5,800 jobs in ten years, you get to keep it all.
I would take that deal! It’s $884 million and over 5,800 jobs. That’s about $152,000 per job created, right?
Henry: It’s a big investment, man. It’s a big investment. And again, I understand where other people are coming. But what we’re saying is if you don’t have ideological consistency when it comes to these issues of corporate welfare, how are you really drawing the mark later on with what’s okay and not okay.
Leahy: So the problem here is its jobs, jobs, jobs. This thing is going to sail through the Tennessee General Assembly. And yet really, I think it’s wrong to do it this way. I can say that because nobody is going to lose their job because of what I say. (Laughs)
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