Live from Music Row Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Maury County, Tennessee State Representative Scott Cepicky to the newsmaker line to discuss his concerns with the Ford mega site deal for Haywood County and why he voted no.
Leahy: We are joined on the newsmaker line by a good friend from Maury County State Representative Scott Cepicky. Welcome, Scott.
Cepicky: Good morning, Michael. How are you doing?
Leahy: Well, I’m doing great. Yesterday, you were one of three members of the Tennessee House of Rep. Representatives who voted against this $884 million incentive package for Ford to open up an electric vehicle plant that is purportedly going to employ 5,800 people over a period of 10 years at the Memphis Regional mega site.
The vote was like overwhelming in favor of it. In the state Senate, also overwhelmingly in favor of it in the state House. I, however, have the same view you do. I was very skeptical about this deal. Tell us why you voted no on this bill.
Cepicky: There were two bills. The first bill, 8001 Michael, created this mega site authority that was given unprecedented powers to negotiate, enter into contracts, keep contracts secret, and also have the power of an eminent domain, and bypassing the local county commissions or city authorities.
And then it didn’t have any provisions in there about reporting to the Comptroller, doing audits, or reporting back to government operations in writing. And you know as well as I do, the most important thing to have in that bill is what do the words say?
The good thing about the amendment that we tried to make was that addressed most of those issues when the vote was taken to table that amendment, 24 other of my colleagues agreed with us that there need to be more guard rails and more oversight over this mega site authority.
And then the other bill we had was the appropriations bill of the $884 million. And I spoke very plainly on the floor Michael. In good conscience with what’s happening with all of our teachers, our doctors, our nurses, airline pilots, employees across the state that are losing their jobs because of exercising their liberty and freedom to choose what goes into their bodies in good conscience.
I could not vote to give a Corporation $884 million before we address the pressing needs of those things that are happening right now in Tennessee in regards to COVID. It’s not even getting into about children that are having to wear masks, and RSV which is skyrocketing in our hospitals right now, and then college and university students that are being segregated and discriminated against for being unvaccinated.
It was a stand up principle. I hope that Ford will come to West Tennessee. I hope that Ford will understand what it means to be a Tennesseean, and I hope that all of these jobs come to fruition, and I hope that it transforms West Tennessee into economic opportunities that they’ve never had in their entire existence.
Leahy: I got the impression that there was just a stampede of political support for this. And frankly, my impression was this was a bit of a rubber stamp, A.
B, I don’t think many state legislators looked at the details as you did and should have. I think there are going to be all sorts of problems with this deal as it plays out. Am I reading that right from afar or what’s your take?
Cepicky: (Chuckles) We’re not talking $100 here, Michael. We’re talking almost a billion dollars when you factor in interest. I have been told by members and leadership that the amendment that we had on the House floor, there were certain things that they did like about that, and they want to bring those back up in January.
But they just didn’t think that yesterday was the time to go ahead and add those into the bill. And then Robin Smith, one of my colleagues who blue lighted the bill who voted present not voting along with Justin Lafferty present not voting, Robin had a very good amendment that was also piggybacked on mine was a secret ballot for the organization of labor that would be an option to those individuals out there.
Leahy: So in other words, if you work there, are you going to have to be a Union member? I guess that’s what we’re getting at.
Cepicky: And that’s what we’re looking at right there.
Leahy: We don’t know do we?
Cepicky: We don’t know. We don’t know yet.
Leahy: That sounds like a formula for disaster to me.
Leahy: My view is I’m very much in the minority in analyzing this, and I would not have voted for. I’m not in the state House. You are. I applaud you for your vote on it. Now, the money they gave them $884 million.
There are two elements that look like it’s a direct payment for stuff they ought to be doing, $138 million for infrastructure, demolition of structures, and more that’s being paid to the regional mega site.
But then they get $500 million of incentives. And State Senator Bo Watson says, yeah, we’ll pay them that money as they bill us for expenses. How’s that going to work?
Cepicky: That’s the devil in the details. None of us, as far as I know, no one has seen the contract. No one understands the clawback. No one really has a good understanding of the clawbacks that are in this contract.
No one has a good understanding of exactly what the obligation of Ford was. If you look at most of my colleagues’ talking points, it was all about jobs, jobs and jobs. Now we’re building a TCAP center out there to help provide the educational training and the technical training to go to work in this facility.
One of the things that we wanted Ford to do, as we’ve experienced in Maury County and Williamson County with the General Motors plant, over the last 37 years, we’ve had to build 14 schools that surround that GM plant. Fourteen schools.
Leahy: Who’s paying for that?
Cepicky: That was one of the amendments we had in my bill was that the Ford or whoever the tenants are for Haywood and Fayette Counties would have to pay the assessed value of the property tax on their facilities.
That what percentage was allocated to schools in those two counties to help defray the cost of all of the schools and infrastructure that these two very rural counties are going to have to build.
I think in Haywood County, Brownsville is the only incorporated city in the whole county. If you move like they’re talking upwards of 20,000 people into that area Michael, you’re looking at probably 20 schools.
Leahy: And the local taxpayers are going to have to cover that. Let me just say that what you just told me, confirming that nobody really understands the details of when the $500 million is going to be paid to Ford and what the clawback provisions are.
That is stunning. And I salute you for opposing this. In my view, this bill should not have been passed. Your last comments on this.
Cepicky: I hope that none of that comes to fruition, Michael because there are a billion dollars of taxpayer money on the line. I hope that Governor Leon and I know Governor Lee is a businessman.
I’m sure he will work hard with Commissioner Rolfe to make sure the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted. But that’s where we have to bring the Government Operations Committee of the House and Senate in on this state.
Listen to the first hour here:
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