TN governor won’t disclose whether taxpayer money will keep UAW away

INFLUENCE: A Democratic legislator in Tennessee is making some interesting claims against Gov. Bill Haslam.

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam will not disclose any information about taxpayer-funded benefits he may have offered to Volkswagen in exchange for the company possibly keeping the United Auto Workers out of its Chattanooga plant.

That was the answer Haslam, a Republican, gave to State Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, in a written response to Turner’s public records request.

As Tennessee Watchdog reported in September, Turner suspected that Haslam, in an attempt to keep the UAW out of Tennessee, had offered state-financed incentives to Volkswagen.

INFLUENCE: A Democratic legislator in Tennessee is making some interesting claims against Gov. Bill Haslam.

Turner publicly announced he was making his open records request in September, but other news agencies have apparently not reported the results of that request.

“We got a response back saying if there was anything that it would be covered under economic development. Therefore it wouldn’t be public information,” said Turner’s spokesman Sean Braisted.

“Basically, nothing that we wanted was attainable. They didn’t give us anything.”

Haslam’s response, which Braisted sent to Tennessee Watchdog, said the information Turner requested was protected from public disclosure under Tennessee law. Specifically, Haslam’s office said the information is private until all parties involved sign formal contracts or other agreements — even though taxpayer money is at stake.

Additionally, Haslam’s office said that some of the details Turner requested involved confidential tax information.

Tennessee Watchdog sent the letter to Haslam spokesman Dave Smith for a response.

“The letter is pretty clear on which portions of the Tennessee Code are cited,” Smith said, without volunteering any other details.

Volkswagen of Chattanooga spokesman Scott Wilson said he would offer no comment on the matter.

Braisted said there is nothing more his office can do.

“We didn’t take it any further from that because there is nothing we could do legally to force them to give us that information,” Braisted said.

Tennessee Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory.

“All we know is that Volkswagen has continued to stand on the side of letting the union work it out. Nothing at this point indicates that Haslam has gotten any sort of special deals to try to block the UAW.”

Tennessee officials previously enticed Volkswagen to the state more than three years ago with more than $577 million in state, local and federal financial incentives.

As Tennessee Watchdog previously reported, talks between the UAW and Volkswagen revolve around whether the UAW should form what has thus far been known as a European-style works council.

According to Patrick Semmens, spokesman for the National Right to Work Foundation, no U.S. automobile factory has a works council, which is composed of employees representing a workforce in discussions with their employers.

Tennessee is a right-to-work state, meaning workers can’t be fired for not joining the UAW and paying union dues.

If it can establish itself at VW Chattanooga, the UAW would have a presence at a foreign-owned automobile manufacturing plant for the first time in more than 20 years.

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