Politics Tennessee committees move along Ford project funding, Memphis megasite board bills
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Bills to create the Megasite Authority of West Tennessee and to fund Ford's electric truck project with $884 million in spending passed through three Senate committees and a House committee on Tuesday.
The bills are the focus of a special session dedicated to Ford Blue Oval City. The $5.6 billion project includes a 3,600-acre campus that will be home to Ford's electric F-Series of trucks and SK Innovation battery manufacturing.
creates a seven-member committee to oversee the project area, and sets up $884 million in funding related to the project.
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The Senate versions of the two bills,and , are scheduled to be heard during a floor session at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. The full House is scheduled to meet at noon Wednesday after the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee.
HB 8001 didn't go through substantive changes Tuesday, but SB 8001 was amended to increase the number of megasite authority board members from seven to nine and to pay the board members $2,000 a month for the first three years of the board. A previous version of the bill called for unpaid board members, who would be reimbursed for travel expenses.
HB 8001 was recommended to pass by the House Commerce Committee. SB 8001 was recommended to pass by the Senate State and Local Government Committee, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee and the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee.
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HB 8002 and SB 8002 were recommended to pass by the Senate and House Finance, Ways, and Means committees.
The House Commerce Committee spent much of Tuesday discussing the specific rules and guidelines regarding the formation of the Megasite Authority of West Tennessee.
“This is a heck of a position to be in,” said Rep. Kevin Vaughan, R-Collierville, the committee chair, referring to the deal and agreement with Ford being announced before the Legislature discussed it. “The cow has left the barn, and we’re trying to figure out if we’re ready for it to go.”
Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe said the Ford project will bring in $180 million in state sales tax revenue during construction and $70 million in local taxes. On an annual basis, state tax revenue is estimated to be $22 million, with $7 million in local tax revenue.
“This time frame is extraordinary, unlike any project,” Rolfe said. “This is going to be the largest project that we know of. This project arrived at our desk in February. By August 31, Ford Motor Company made the decision to come to Tennessee. Then we spent 30 days working on this memorandum of understanding.”
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One issue brought up by lawmakers and outside parties was whether the project would become a union work site.
National Right to Work Committee President Mark Mix sent a letter to Gov. Bill Lee and several other legislative leaders Tuesday, asking them to “take action to ensure that any state incentives for the placement of a Ford-SK Innovation electric vehicle and battery facility in Western Tennessee do not subsidize coercive unionism that undermines the worker freedom that Tennessee’s Right to Work law stands for.”
When asked about whether Ford was going to use union labor at the plant and during construction, Rolfe said Ford came to Tennessee and picked it out of 15 other options because the state is business friendly.
“Ford Motor Company is a great company,” Rolfe said. “If we could ever go out and pick one company to come to the megasite, it would be Ford Motor Company because of their sensitivity to all of the practices that you are speaking to.”
Another issue that Vaughan brought up was whether the authority should be formed before Ford signs on to the final agreement.
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“Why are we here in a special session to discuss the formation of an authority board when the joint venture partnership has not yet made?” Vaughan asked. “We’re going to grant extraordinary powers to an entity and yet our joint venture partner on the manufacturing side, there’s caveats that they have not made.”
Rolfe explained how swiftly Tennessee was willing to move on the project, with Ford in a competitive electric vehicle environment, was part of the reason the project landed in the Memphis megasite.
“We have done a lot of deals in the state of Tennessee,” Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration Commissioner Butch Eley said. “And, to me, by far, this deal is going to have more positive impact than anything we have done before.”
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