Both of Tennessee's legislative speakers say they believe the administration of Gov. Bill Haslam did nothing wrong by linking nearly $300 million in future state incentives for Volkswagen to the outcome of labor talks.
But House Speaker Beth Harwell initially said she would be open to a joint legislative hearing to examine the revelations unveiled this week by news media. She then changed her position on the hearings upon learning Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is not interested.
“We’ll look into it but I just don’t see any evidence that anything happened that shouldn’t have,” said Harwell.
When told Ramsey said he would ignore the call for a hearing in the Senate, she said, “Well, then we’ll defer then to the lieutenant governor because it would need to be a joint, an ad hoc committee, between the Senate and the House.”
Ramsey said he doesn’t plan to hold hearings on the incentive deal, saying “I think that’s silly. I really do.”
“I see no problem with saying that, if certain things happen, then here’s what we’re going to do. I would think that is what the taxpayers would want, to make sure that we invest their money wisely,” he said, citing what he called past “terrible investments” by the state like in Hemlock Semiconductor, which shed hundreds of jobs after accepting millions of taxpayer dollars.
Rep. Mike Turner, an outgoing House Democratic Caucus chairman, is calling for the speakers to convene a joint hearing of the chambers’ Government Operations committee to review details revealed in an NewsChannel 5 report showing confidential administration documents linking future incentives to the outcome of the labor negotiations “being concluded to the satisfaction of the State of Tennessee.”
Haslam told reporters Wednesday it was no secret the state was interested in how the vote to usher in the vote turned out.
“It wasn’t a threat at all. It was just a statement of reality,” Haslam said.