NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Tennessee is poised to spend approximately $900 million of its tax revenues on incentives, infrastructure projects and more under an agreement with Ford Motor Co., which has announced plans to build an electric vehicle and battery plant near Memphis.
The sweeping spending package must be approved by the Republican-led General Assembly, which began the work Monday. The special legislative session was called by Republican Gov. Bill Lee.
Ford and South Korean battery maker SK Innovation announced last month that they would spend $5.6 billion to build a factory to produce electric F-Series pickups. The project, located near the small town of Stanton in rural Haywood County, is expected to create about 5,800 new jobs at the West Tennessee megasite by 2025.
Lee has said Tennessee offered $500 million in incentives to help secure the project, but this week, the state unveiled plans to spend hundreds of millions more.
Around $138 million has been budgeted for infrastructure and demolition work at the site, while $40 million has been proposed to build a new technical college in Haywood County. Another $200 million would be spent on road projects.
Lawmakers must also approve legislation creating a new regional development authority to oversee the site’s buildout.
Known as Megasite Authority of West Tennessee, the agency would have the power to keep confidential for five years any “sensitive” documents whose release would interfere with the group’s mission. Marketing materials would remain entirely hidden from the public.
To date, there’s been no details about how much the workers will be paid or whether they will vote union membership. Ultimately, officials say, union representation at the plant will be decided by the workers themselves.
Yet on Monday, the Center for Union Facts launched a campaign criticizing the United Auto Workers union. The business-backed nonprofit argues the UAW should not be allowed to organize the Ford plant and has touted efforts that include purchasing billboards near the Capitol, running a full-page newspaper ad, and organizing a letter writing campaign.
On top of the Ford incentive package, a growing number of Republican lawmakers have argued that the General Assembly should address a number of COVID-19-related issues while members are gathered at the Capitol.
Lee has resisted demands to hold a pandemic-focused special session. Instead, he issued an executive order allowing families to opt out of school mask mandates.
Some lawmakers say that’s not enough.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton has warned that some Republican House members may abstain from signing off on the Ford package. And both Sexton and Senate Speaker Randy McNally are working to call an additional special session that would address COVID-19 mandates.
In Tennessee, taking up topics other than what the governor has outlined for a special session requires support from two-thirds of the members of both the House and Senate.
By Kimberlee Kruesi and Jonathan Mattise