NASHVILLE - State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said today that Gov. Bill Haslam's economic incentive bill won't pass the chamber until officials agree to language that reveals the owners behind companies receiving taxpayer-funded grants.
"I think if you ask for the incentives, the citizens have a right to know who you are," Ramsey said.
Earlier today, Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson, the administration bill's sponsor, referred the measure back to the Senate Commerce Committee so lawmakers can look at the issue more closely.
Haslam and his commissioner of economic development, Bill Hagerty, are pushing the legislation in order to obtain "due diligence" information from companies wanting state tax credits and outright cash grants.
The bill specifies information the state currently does not receive, including business processes, financial statements, budgets, cash flow reports and, originally, corporate structure and ownership. Under the current bill, all of that would be kept off limits from the public.
Critics say they understand the reasoning behind most of that, but one, Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, said refusal to disclose the names of people or entities that own companies getting public money is a recipe for self-dealing and corruption.
Haslam and Hagerty have balked on divulging such ownership information, saying companies will be reluctant to come to Tennessee or expand if it is made public.
This week, the administration unveiled a new amendment to the bill that eliminates mention of ownership or corporate structure from the original bill but includes the other "due diligence" information.
Information about the name of the company or entity receiving state FastTrack grants would remain public as would the amount of public funds received, the number of jobs that would be created and the location of the project.
The bill was delayed in the House. Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said the delay came because the amendment was filed late.