Republicans Reject Investigation of Haslam's Secret $300M VW Offer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam continued to face intense questions Wednesday about his use of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars as leverage in a labor dispute.
But the House speaker said she has no plans to investigate.
The controversy follows secret documents first uncovered by NewsChannel 5 Investigates.
Haslam faced a barrage of questions from the Capitol Hill press. He continued to insist that $300 million was not used to buy the outcome of the United Auto Workers' efforts to unionize Volkswagen's plant in Chattanooga. At the same time, he admitted, the administration used it as leverage because they were interested in the outcome.
"Were you willing to walk away from 1,300 jobs if they were UAW jobs?" we asked.
"No, I've actually said that repeatedly, no," the governor answered.
At issue: the administration's efforts to have a say in Volkswagen's deal with organized labor.
Confidential documents obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates revealed that they used your tax dollars as leverage, offering the automaker incentives to expand the plant and create 1,350 new jobs.
But the offer noted, "The incentives … are subject to works council discussions between the State of Tennessee and VW being concluded to the satisfaction of the State of Tennessee."
"The letter said this is contingent of satisfactory conclusion of talks around the works council," Haslam told reporters. "We never said it's going to be this number if you have a union and this number if you don't."
"So what is satisfactory?" one reporter asked.
"We'll have to see, we'll have to see what the outcome is," he responded.
The governor had repeatedly said the outcome he preferred was that the United Auto Workers should not be allowed to unionize the Volkswagen plant.
Was that the satisfactory outcome contemplated in the administration's secret offer?
"I'll answer it this way," Haslam said, "if UAW had won, it's not like we were going to discontinue discussions with them."
"So why have that sentence in there at all?" another reporter asked.
"Because it mattered to us," the governor answered.
"So it was an idle threat, or it wasn't a threat?" the reporter continued.
"It wasn't a threat at all -- it was just a statement of reality," Haslam said.
He alluded to the fact that Republican lawmakers have threatened to kill any incentives if the UAW won.
"Any incentive deal that we do has to be approved in the legislature. We had that discussion with them all along. That was going to be much, much more difficult if the union vote happened."
House Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner scoffed at the administration's claim that the offer was tied to the process, not the outcome.
"Why else would you even get involved in it if you didn't want to control the outcome," the Nashville Democrat said.
"The end game is what it's all about. Process is how you get there. So yes that's exactly what they were trying to do. So, yes, that's exactly what they were trying to do."
Turner has asked House Speaker Beth Harwell to order a legislative committee to investigate the governor's use of taxpayer money against the UAW -- something that she told us she won't do.
"I don't see anything that would indicate that there has been any wrongdoing on the part of the governor or anyone else," the Nashville Republican said. "So I don't see that is something we'll be pursuing this legislative session."
The Speaker blamed the fact that lawmakers are rushing to end this legislative session.
Turner responded that, while it would be preferable to have a hearing on that confidential offer before the end of the session, it's a really important issue that deserves an investigation -- even if that means doing it after the session is over.
Republican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey also rejected calls for hearings, telling NashvillePost.com that "I think that's silly. I really do."