Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, just returned from a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago with a request for his state legislature to dole out cash for a corporation he desperately wants to lure to the state. Not only did he ask for the money for the undisclosed company, but the legislature also did it without even releasing the bill to the public.
Oklahoma has suffered over the past several years as the hard-right policies, failing schools and access to healthcare has made it an increasingly unwanted place for people to live. When people don't want to live in a state, businesses don't want to relocate their headquarters or factories there.
In 2021, the Oklahoma Journal Record reported that the lack of skilled workers is causing problems for those companies that already are in Oklahoma. Companies that need highly skilled employees with good pay and benefits simply can't find them in Oklahoma because the skilled workforce is so small. That leaves companies in a position to search for employees out of state and import a workforce. However, with such bad rankings, people don't want to move to the state, particularly when other jobs are available elsewhere.
Still, the governor thinks he can pay people enough to relocate their companies. It's remarkably similar to the effort to court Foxconn to Wisconsin. In that case, former Gov. Scott Walker promised $3 billion to the company had to hire a minimum of 5,200 workers by the end of 2022 and "up to" 13,000 after that. So, up to means one more than 5,200. Foxconn never hired anyone and later claimed there was never any intention to build what Walker and former President Donald Trump had promised.
Now, Stitt is trying the same tactic with Oklahoma; only he won't name the company or give details about the agreement. A report from the local site NonDoc explained Panasonic’s board of directors is meeting soon to vote on the location of a $4 billion battery plant in North America. Panasonic has an agreement with Tesla to make their car batteries. While Republicans assume that is the company, it's not even confirmed Panasonic is the one they'd give the money to.
So, after going to the fundraiser in Florida, Stitt came back with the idea for a rebate program to bring a company he won't disclose to the state and create 4,000 jobs. State leaders have been forced to sign non-disclosure agreements about the plan, which is called "Project Ocean."
Kansas has a bid for Panasonic, offering $1.2 billion in incentives. At a press conference Monday, Stitt said he signed a non-disclosure agreement preventing him from saying the name of the company or revealing anything about the job possibilities and financials of the project. Still, with nothing to go on, Stitt wanted the GOP-led legislature to pass an economic incentive package for the company, with details to come later. The legislature did it, offering at least $3.6 billion for 500 direct jobs and at least 1,000 in the second year, 2,500 in the third year and 4,000 in the fifth year. That's $900,000 per job that Oklahoma is offering to pay the company.
House Speaker Pro Tempore Kyle Hilbert explained that in the past there have been “safeguards” with financial caps on the amount the state could give to a corporation. He explained that the caps were to stop it from “just kind of growing and growing and growing out of control.”
“How am I supposed to go back to my constituents and say, ‘I gave away three-quarters of a billion dollars to a company that I don’t even know their name?’ Is that responsible?” asked Democratic state Rep. Collin Walke.
Ironically, as an oil and gas state, the Republican officials have rejected electronic vehicles and green energy technologies. There is currently a restriction preventing people from putting solar or wind energy they generate from their own properties back on the electrical grid.
This year, Oklahoma’s House Bill 3994 would prohibit sales of Tesla cars in Oklahoma because they don't use franchise dealerships the way others do. The company sells direct to the consumers. So, essentially, if the company is Panasonic, Oklahoma would pay $3.6 billion to a company to make batteries in the state for cars that the state's people can't even buy.
Republicans in Oklahoma voted on the bill Stitt demanded before it was even released to the public for review.
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