Why I am incensed about incentives including the Ford Blue Oval City deal | Opinion

Well, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and our Republican-controlled state legislature are on another spending spree with nearly $900 million in business incentives (corporate welfare) recently tossed to Ford Motor Company. Ford has that Mustang pony logo, but we taxpayers will be the ones ponying up to fund Ford’s Tennessee location, with no certainty that many or any of the jobs will go to actual Tennesseans.

Maury County has some experience with funding a big automaker. I’ll revisit Saturn, planet of karma, in a moment.

We can throw this Ford pot of tax money in with the wasted hundreds of millions that Gov. Lee flung out in no-bid Covid-supplies spending reported by NewsChannel 5 in May. Remember the useless sock masks? There was a lot more.

Lee, a Republican, came into office as a business owner accustomed to being paid in part by tax dollars. The Tennessean and others reported from public procurement records that Lee’s private business has received millions of dollars in state contracts. The governor seems confident this well will never go dry on him. Since he took office in 2019, I’ve been astonished at what a big spender he is. Of other people’s money.

Rep. Kustoff joins Gov. Lee at Ford’s announcement of the Blue Oval City
Rep. Kustoff joins Gov. Lee at Ford’s announcement of the Blue Oval City

The Ford “megasite” will be in West Tennessee, and I feel sorry for the people over there. Maury Countians are familiar with being taken for a ride by an automaker. I was away from Maury in the 1980s when Saturn/GM played on the inexperience and naïveté of our county leaders and got the massive financial incentives it wanted to locate here and then proceeded to break its agreements with the county. One of those agreements was that at least half the Saturn jobs would go to local workers. Months after the agreements were signed, Saturn’s president announced that the Spring Hill plant would have 3,000 workers, none of whom would be from Maury County. The transplants and their families would descend upon us, and our lot was to accommodate them. Later, some locals were hired, but I never saw a verified number.

Mike Bennett, a former United Auto Workers bargaining chairman who retired from the Saturn/GM plant in Spring Hill, detailed the whole mess in columns he wrote for The Daily Herald. I recommend a column of his published March 5, 2010, which I am looking at as I write this. He deserved thanks for telling the truth.

We ended up subsidizing GM supplier businesses, too, and building roads, schools, and more while getting none to few of the jobs meant to replace the family-sustaining jobs that had left our county. We watched the real estate speculation jack up housing prices and rents on our elderly, our young, and everyone in between. We saw our relatives crowded out of housing. We saw them leave the county to find work elsewhere. We saw traffic increase every year. We saw beauty and a way of life destroyed. We never saw an accounting on those GM jobs.

Business incentives deals are usually done mostly in secret and have other major questionable aspects, including no accountability. Quite often, they don’t create the promised jobs, but we don’t hear about it unless someone reports it, as Jamie McGee did for The Tennessean and other outlets in her years-long reports on the TNInvestco program. TNInvestco came from the Democrats under Gov. Phil Bredesen.

Small businesses rarely get such financial breaks from tax dollars. Their fate is to compete with the big, wealthy corporations showered with government handouts that should be going to our essential services, roads repairs, etc. We subsidize many things of no benefit to the average Tennessean, such as sports stadiums for rich team-owners.

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Tennessee business incentives were the fourth highest in the nation in 2017, according to a study by the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. I bet we’re first now after this Ford deal. Tennessee seems to have a national reputation as suckers in this game.

The Republicans and the Democrats are equally bad in this use/abuse of tax dollars, and the Republicans don’t even pretend anymore to be conservative with our money. The business lobby and other personal profiteers run this state, as I saw while trying to stop illegal hiring here.

It is not a good deal for us that Maury County’s appointed, unelected industrial development board (see the members at https://www.maurycounty-tn.gov/272/Industrial-Development-Board-IDB) is now allowed by the county commission to bypass the commission and negotiate financial incentives for certain business projects (reported Oct. 20 by The Daily Herald). Why the secrecy? Why the rush? Our location and other assets should sell themselves.

We’ve been taken advantage of in massively unfair ways that people have just stopped talking about. We need folks other than business and political profiteers holding the keys. And we need daylight on every move.

Donna Locke is a Columbia native and can be contacted at donnalocke555@gmail.com.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Herald: Ford Blue Oval City deal: Why I am incensed about incentives