Ramsey balks on Haslam's proposed changes to Tennessee's FastTrack grant program

Ramsey balks on Haslam's proposed changes to Tennessee's FastTrack grant program

March 8th, 2012 by Andy Sher in Local - Breaking News

Tennessee Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE - Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey voiced unease Thursday with Gov. Bill Haslam's plan to expand the list of items the state can reimburse companies for when negotiating over business relocations or expansions in Tennessee.

Ramsey told reporters he likes the state's existing FastTrack program, which funnels money through local development boards or other local government entities, to help companies with infrastructure and job training programs.

Haslam has legislation keepts that but adds a third leg to FastTrack: It provides more flexibility to address additional needs officials say companies are telling them they'd like to see.

The list includes, but is not limited to, grants or loans for retrofitting, relocating or purchasing equipment, building repairs and improvements and temporary office space.

"On FastTrack money, I think we're doing for businesses what they can't do themselves," Ramsey said. "If a new company's coming in, we ought to put in the infrastructure. We need to build the roads. We need to put in the sewer lines. We need to make sure the gas line is there and the utilities."

He said he agrees with Haslam's effort to move away from tax credits and tax breaks in favor of more.

When reporters pointed out that Haslam's legislation also would provide money directly to companies, Ramsey said, "I still like utilities and infrastructure better. We're talking about that bill."

Ramsey last year had expressed uneasiness after it was discovered then-Gov. Phil Bredesen had committed to giving Electrolux $100 million for construction and equipment on top of other incentives in exchange for the company building a plant in Memphis.

"I'm still concerned about that," Ramsey said.

Asked if that meant he opposes the cash grant proposal, Ramsey replied, "I didn't say that. I'm pretty good at coming real close" and then laughed.

Read more in tomorrow's Times Free Press.