Silicon Ranch — the company with ties to former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration — has applied for a solar tax break that is sure to fan the flames of debate over the economic development incentive’s future, reports the Nashville Business Journal.
The company’s founders include Bredesen and major economic development players from his administration, Matt Kisber and Reagan Farr. They spearheaded the passage of the tax break in 2010 aimed at encouraging the fledgling solar industry.
In the 2012 Tennessee General Assembly, some Republicans had planned to alter the tax arrangement in part because they were suspicious after those who put it in place started a solar company. Since then, Silicon Ranch has made eight applications for green energy certification, a stamp necessary to receive the tax break, according to Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation records.
…Kisber and Farr said the company had not planned previously to apply for the tax credit — or any other incentive they had advocated — unless a new legislature and administration affirmed the legitimacy of a Bredesen-era policy. Farr, who served as Bredesen’s revenue commissioner, said the Republicans’ ultimate decision not to alter the policy “reaffirmed” it and led the company to consider applying.
News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander:
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) announced today that his chief of staff, Matt Sonnesyn, will leave the office to pursue private interests.
Sonnesyn will be succeeded as Alexander’s chief of staff by Ryan Loskarn, staff director at the Senate Republican Conference. Loskarn will begin as chief of staff on November 28th and will also continue serving as staff director at the Conference for the remainder of Alexander’s chairmanship through early 2012.
Alexander said, “Matt Sonnesyn is one of the most talented policy advisers on Capitol Hill. For ten years we have worked closely together. I will miss his counsel, but have no doubt that the next stage of his career will be even more successful than the first. I am fortunate that Ryan Loskarn is willing to transfer his considerable skills from leading the Republican Conference to leading my Senate staff.” RYAN LOSKARN
Staff Director of Senate Republican Conference for the past two and a half years, Loskarn has worked at the Conference since 2007 under former Chairman Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Chairman Alexander. Prior to serving as staff director, Loskarn was communications director both for the Conference and Alexander. Before the Senate, Loskarn spent seven years in the House of Representatives as a legislative aide to Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.), deputy press secretary at the House Rules Committee, and communications director for Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) from 2003 to 2007. Named one of Roll Call’s “Fabulous 50 Movers and Shakers” on Capitol Hill, Loskarn earned a B.A. in history and political science with honors from Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. MATT SONNESYN
Matt Sonnesyn first worked for Alexander as a graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School where he was asked to serve as Alexander’s research assistant to design a new graduate level course on “The American Character and American Government.” Since that time he has served as the senator’s chief policy aide, managed day-to-day operations at the Senate Republican Conference, and, most recently, served as chief of staff. Over the last decade he has advised the senator on nearly every major policy decision, as well as worked on much of Alexander’s signature legislation, including the America COMPETES Act – bipartisan legislation to strengthen our country’s competitive edge in science and technology. He was policy director for Alexander’s 2002 Senate campaign and U.S. Senator Bob Corker’s 2006 campaign. He has also worked at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C. Sonnesyn holds a B.A. in international relations from Principia College in Elsah, Illinois, and a master’s in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Mike Morrow asked Matt Kisber, former commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, about the Amazon deal over the weekend.
An excerpt from his resulting TNReport:
When asked Saturday night at the Tennessee Democratic Party’s Jackson Day Dinner in Nashville if the Amazon agreement was in writing, Kisber gave a long pause. “I don’t actually remember,” he said, then taking another pause. “I really don’t. I don’t know if we got an MOU (memorandum of understanding). That’s so far back now, in terms of what I’ve been dealing with, I don’t … I don’t honestly remember. I would have to defer to the current administration.
“I remember the discussions. I remember everything we discussed, but I don’t remember if it got … if there was a written agreement or not.”
Kisber and former Revenue Commissioner Reagan Farr have launched Silicon Ranch Corporation, a solar power development business, since leaving office. Bredesen is chairman of the operation.
Richard Roberts, current revenue commissioner under Gov. Bill Haslam, has refused to comment on Amazon’s deal, citing policies that prevent him from discussing agreements with private taxpayers.
Kisber said the project was in the works for many months and that there were multiple discussions involved in the deal. He recalled people on the site selection team, both on the consultant side and the company side, in the dealings with Amazon.
…Kisber said the issue, as it was explained to him, involved third-party handling of the products being sold.
“I was told we were not talking about Amazon books and CDs. We were talking about companies for whom Amazon provides fulfillment services through their Internet platform,” Kisber said. “There are hundreds of companies that you buy from if you use Amazon that is not being sold by Amazon but is being fulfilled (by Amazon).
“And Tennessee has other companies that provide that type of service as well. This was consistent in my thinking with the services of those types of companies.”
Kisber complimented Haslam’s handling of the issue.
“Whenever an economic development project becomes political theater, it impacts the state’s reputation for business,” Kisber said. “And I commend Governor Haslam for working to resolve the issue and tone down the rhetoric so Tennessee can focus on its wonderful business climate and using that to attract projects to the state.”
Kisber attributed his inability to recall specific details on the Amazon deal to the passage of time since he worked for the State of Tennessee.