by Jon Styf
The Tennessee Legislature finished its special session on Ford’s $5.6 billion electric truck project Wednesday by approving $884 million in spending and creating a Megasite Authority of West Tennessee board to oversee operations.
“This is the largest single economic investment in rural Tennessee’s history,” Gov. Bill Lee said. “… It is, most importantly, a win for western Tennessee’s workforce.”
The biggest sticking point between the Senate and House came down to how many members would be included on the authority board.
The Senate ultimately agreed with the House amendment to make the board 11 members, which include Gov. Bill Lee, the commissioner of economic and community development, the commissioner of finance and administration and the commissioner of general services.
The other seven members will be appointed by the governor (two), the speaker of the House (two), the speaker of the Senate (two) and one jointly appointed by both speakers.
Both bills had bipartisan support.
“This is such an important day, not just for west Tennessee but all of Tennessee,” Sen. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, said. “… This project has the potential to change not just lives but generations.
“This is an American vehicle that is going to be made my Americans in Tennessee.”
Ford is scheduled to start work immediately on the project, which encompasses 3,600 acres of the 4,100-acre Memphis megasite that will be home to Ford’s electric F-Series of trucks and SK Innovation battery manufacturing.
The appointed board members will receive $2,000 a month for the first three years of the board and will serve four-year terms. An early version of the bill called for seven unpaid board members who would be reimbursed for travel expenses.
The spending bill includes the previously announced $500 million incentive for Ford related to the completion of the project, along with $138.2 million to the Memphis Regional Megasite for infrastructure, demolition of structures and more. The funding for the project will come from the state’s $2 billion in reserves, Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said.
Watson said the $500 million incentive will be paid as Ford submits expenses related to the project. Ford will have the option to become owner of the 3,600 acres after 10 years and would then be required to pay local property taxes on the site, which is owned by the state.
“We do clawback, if a company does not keep their commitment,” Watson said, noting Ford will have to keep its commitments related to the number of jobs created at the site. “There is nothing special except that we are creating an incredible economic opportunity for a part of the state that hasn’t had those economic opportunities.”
Another $40 million would be spent on the construction of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology campus at the megasite. The spending bill also sets out $200 million to be spent on construction of State Road 194 between SR 59 and SR 1, along with an interchange at Interstate 40 and a connector road to SR 222.
Another $5 million will be set aside for consulting services for local governments and legal services for the authority. An additional $728,000 would go to creating the Megasite Authority of West Tennessee to pay for its chief operating officer, office space and costs.
“We are transforming the landscape of West Tennessee and really as a state as a whole,” Rep. Karen D. Camper, D-Memphis, said. “People from every corner of this state have worked hard to make this a reality.”
Americans for Prosperity-Tennessee State Director Tori Venable was less enthusiastic.
“While it’s a historic investment in West Tennessee and a solution to decades-long sinkhole for state funding, we are still going to stand on principle,” Venable said. “We continue to oppose government picking winners and losers in business by giving away Tennessean’s hard-earned tax dollars to politically-connected companies.
“We’ve all heard the promises of claw-backs if a business doesn’t hold up their end of the deal for job creation or investments. The public cannot count on accountability without full transparency for these taxpayer-funded deals.”
The senators who voted against the bills were Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma; Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald; Mark Pody, R-Lebanon; and Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield. The representatives who voted against the bill were Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka; Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro; and Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster.
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Jon Styf is an award-winning editor and reporter who has worked in Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan in local newsrooms over the past 20 years, working for Shaw Media, Hearst, The Center Square and several other companies.
Photo “Money” by SCR3AMFR3AK. Background Photo “Ford” by Mike Mozart. CC BY 2.0.