NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration on Tuesday rolled out its amendment to the appropriations bill, which includes nearly $45 million to increase the amount of cash grants available to companies looking to invest in Tennessee.
The measure allows the state to provide Fast Track grants for retrofitting, relocation, office upgrades or temporary space for companies investing in Tennessee.
“The money is linked to two or three potential employee expansions or new locations here,” Haslam told reporters after a speech to the state Chamber of Commerce. “We’re not there yet, but we wanted to put something in the budget.”
The state has appropriated more than $200 million to the program over the last three budget years and Haslam proposed pouring another $80 million for last year and this year.
Other items in the budget amendment include:
— $5 million from the tobacco settlement for health programs.
— 3 million for planning for the State Library and Archives and State Museum.
— $1.4 million for peer support centers run by the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
— $1.3 million for infrastructure at Rocky Fork State Park;
— $1 million for a nursing program at Parsons Center of the University of Tennessee-Martin.
— $1 million for the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.
Republican Sen. Bo Watson says his bill establishing a framework to handle pole attachment issues between the public power distributors that own them and investor-owned cable companies is an attempt to resolve a years-long fight, reports Andy Sher. But the Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association, which represents cable operators such as Comcast, charges the bill will result in a “new, outrageously high fee on broadband providers across the state.”
The bill, sponsored in the House by Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, is scheduled to come before a Senate committee today.
Watson said the bill is an attempt to resolve issues between the cable industry and municipal electric services, such as Chattanooga’s EPB, and rural electric cooperatives.
“If you keep in mind that the co-ops’ and municipal electric services’ No. 1 mission in life is to keep electric rates as low as possible, well, anything that shifts the costs of that pole onto the ratepayers is potentially raising the rate of electricity, which is counter to the mission that [they] have,” Watson said.
Under current law, no one can attach lines or otherwise use the poles without the consent of utilities.
The bill establishes a cost-sharing framework for pole attachment fee negotiations between utilities and attaching parties. It also creates a dispute resolution mechanism for unsuccessful negotiations between parties.
Cable operators charge it would nearly double the rates they currently pay and are pressing their own bill sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and Rep. Steve McManus, R-Cordova.
EPB spokesman John Pless said in an email statement that the municipal electric service “does not want our electric customers to subsidize the cable industry. Comcast pays us an average of $1.02 per utility pole per month. The cost to own and maintain each one of our utility poles is about $100 to $120 per year.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam’s effort to close off public access to company information used to decide economic development grants was withdrawn Wednesday.
Republican Sen. Bo Watson of Hixson said that the decision followed a failure to reach a compromise.
“I just don’t think we could get the language right to satisfy everybody’s needs,” Watson said. “The administration sort of recognized that they were kind of at an impasse in trying to get the language right, and said we’ll just try this next year.”
Gov. Bill Haslam offered a broad defense today of his efforts to
shift the state’s business-development incentives from tax credits toward direct
cash grants and to keep secret the owners of companies who win taxpayer funding. More from Richard Locker’s report:
Speaking to the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, Haslam acknowledged the two
bills he’s asked lawmakers to approve have set of a public debate but said he
believes giving businesses cash to move to or expand in Tennessee will cost
taxpayers less and be more “transparent” and more effective over time.
He also said he and lawmakers are trying to find a balance between the
information the state asks of businesses to help officials make decisions about
awarding incentives and the amount of that information disclosed to the public.
His administration is pushing a bill that would allow the state to obtain more
information from businesses applying for public assistance to build or expand,
including financial information, trade secrets and owners of privately held
companies, and keep it confidential even after public money is awarded.
But he said he’s been told that public disclosure of owners of private
companies will cost Tennessee in lost jobs.
“I understand the concern about public money and people wanting to understand
who is ultimately benefitting from that. But I think everybody needs to understand, none of our competitors are asking for that information or making that public. So if we do that, we will be at a decided disadvantage,” Haslam told reporters after the speech.
“You can go talk to people who we’re dealing with and they will say, if that’s the deal, then we’re out. That’s why you have the legislative process, to try to get it right and get the right balance.”
Full story in the Commercial Appeal website HERE.