Corporate welfare or job creation? Tennessee lawmakers weigh $884M for new Ford plant

Gov. Bill Lee promises investment will have a “generational impact” and cement Tennessee as a “national leader in automotive manufacturing.”
The Tennessee statehouse

Tennessee’s special session regarding $884 million in spending for the creation of Ford Motor Company’s Blue Oval City at the megasite outside of Memphis began Monday with the introduction of two bills for to the $5.6 billion project.

One bill provides for the spending, and the other creates the Megasite Authority of West Tennessee to govern the project and future deals at the site.

“Tennessee’s investment in the Megasite will have a generational impact on all 95 counties and cement our place as the national leader in automotive manufacturing,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, who introduced the legislation. “This special session will give Tennesseans a look into the funding process, and I thank the General Assembly for their swift action.”

The spending 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.

Another $40 million would be spent on the construction of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology campus set to be created at the megasite.

The proposal 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 would be set aside for consulting services for local governments and legal services for the authority.

An additional $675,000 would go to creating the Megasite Authority of West Tennessee, including its board of seven members.

The governor will appoint two members along with one appointee from the speaker of the House, speaker of the Senate, commissioner of Economic and Community Development, commissioner of Finance and Administration and commissioner of General Services.

The board will begin business Nov. 1 with four-year terms for a maximum of two full terms, and four board members constitute a quorum. Board members will not be paid but will be reimbursed for travel expenses.

The proposal also creates a chief executive officer position for the authority, first nominated by the governor. The board cannot remove that CEO, but if a new CEO needs to be appointed in the future, it will become the responsibility of the board.

The bill also creates several situations where records regarding the board and project are not public documents, at the discretion of the CEO if a record is determined to be “of such a sensitive nature that the record's disclosure or release would seriously harm the ability of the authority to effectuate the purposes of this chapter.”

That would hold true for five years, when the record would then become public.