By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — House Republicans insist their vote Wednesday for a plan to expand a state economic development inventive program does not conflict with their mantra that government can’t create jobs.
The chamber voted 96-0 for the measure proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam and carried by Republican Rep. Tim Wirgau of Paris, who said the expanded cash grant program would help spur investment in economically distressed areas of the state.
“Let me make it very clear that we’re not going to be standing on the Capitol steps and just doling out checks,” Wirgau said.
The measure, which awaits a vote in the Senate before it can head for Haslam’s signature, would allow the state to provide Fast Track grants for retrofitting, relocation, office upgrades or temporary space for companies investing in Tennessee.
The current Fast Track program is limited to jobs training and infrastructure improvements. The state has appropriated $217 million to the program over the last three budget years and Haslam has proposed pouring another $80 million for the current and upcoming budget year.
Republican Rep. Bill Sanderson spoke in favor of the bill from the floor.
“While I don’t normally advocate the expansion of government programs, this initiative has shown real results,” said Sanderson, R-Union City.
“This program is proof that there’s certain legitimate functions that government can help (with) in areas where more investment is needed,” he said.
During the floor debate about Wirgau’s bill, Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, asked a series of questions about the incentives plan.
“Is it your understanding that government creates jobs?” Holt asked.
“No, sir,” Wirgau responded.
“Is it your understanding that we as an instrument of government facilitate the opportunity for small businesses to create jobs?” Holt asked.
“I would hope that is our intent,” Wirgau said.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville said Republicans are ignoring what he called the obvious link between the incentives bill and jobs creation.
“If government can’t create jobs, what are you doing this for?” Turner said. “This whole Fast Track program is to help create jobs.”
“They live in never-never land if they think government doesn’t create jobs.”
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick said his preference would be for the state to focus on improving the business climate alone. But the Chattanooga Republican said the state must offer incentives in order to compete with other states.
“Unfortunately the playing field right now requires you to give incentives to businesses to expand or move to the state,” McCormick said. “That’s the way the game is played.”
“We can’t show up to a football game dressed in basketball uniforms,” he said.
Read HB2344 at http://capitol.tn.gov