Sen. Stacey Campfield cast the sole vote against Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to begin giving corporations cash grants for expanding or locating in Tennessee after declaring they could be a step toward “crony capitalism.”
The bill (HB2344) was approved by the Senate 29-1 and now goes to the governor for his signature. It was approved 96-0 in the House. The “FastTrack” grants would be in addition to tax credits and infrastructure improvements that no go to companies moving into Tennessee.
Campfield, R-Knoxville, defined crony capitalism in a floor speech as “when governments start using taxpayer dollars to gamble with.”
Couching some of his comments in the form of questions to the bill’s sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, Campfield compared the proposal to the national controversy over Solyndra Inc., which received huge federal grants and then went bankrupt.
“We (Republicans) all yelled and screamed that was crony capitalism,” he said. “Now it’s our turn at the trough and we’re doing the exact thing… with straight cash giveaways.”
Norris’ reply included the observation that Knoxville “has probably received as much or more” than any other area in “state largess.”
A bit later, after the bill had passed, Campfield spoke again to “make clear my comments on the economic stimulus package” were “in no way to infer that (Norris) was corrupt” and were directed soley to the “legislation itself.”
Campfield’s initial comments also included a reference to the TNInvestco, a venture capital fund set up by the state three years ago, as having produced about 200 jobs with a $200 million in spending.
That prompted a rebuttal later by Sen. Douglas Overbey, R-Maryville, sponsor of the TNInvestco legislation in a floor speech. He said legislators can be proud of TNInvestco, which has invested $46 million into 64 small companies around the state and produced “over 325 jobs” since being set up in 2009. The state stands to get a return on its investment under the program, he said.
“These are investments, not giveaways, not loans, as was intimated,” said Overbey.