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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > New GM Auto Plant Brings High Costs to a Community

Less than an hour’s drive south of Nashville, Tenn., around the town of Columbia and the hamlet of Spring Hill, the euphoria that greeted GM’s Saturn plant announcement this summer is giving way to the reality of Saturn’s demands on these communities. GM, as usual, is playing hardball.
The giant auto company is determined to break new ground in more ways that its still-secret labor arrangement with the United Auto Workers (except copies that have leaked). In a short six-page 40-year, in-lieu-of-tax with local officials, GM escaped any semblance of assuming its fair share of taxes for the proposed $3.5 billion integrated manufacturing facility. The company will pay $7.5 million to Maury County for the first year and then $3.5 million annually for the next two years and less for subsequent years. A new $600 million GM plant on Orion Township, Mich., pays much more in property taxes and critics there believe the company underpays the jurisdiction by a significant amount.

The county set itself up for being taken to the cleaners. Officials were a little concerned that GM, still calling its site selection “tentative,” would make noises about moving elsewhere. They believed that the new plant would generate sales and other tax revenues that would support the heavy demands on public services. Yet had local officials gone to Michigan to determine the proper comparisons, they would have known what a pittance GM was offering them. They would have seen how difficult it has been to make public budgetary ends meet even where, as in Flint, there are four GM plants.

The draft accord with GM was not placed on public notices for a 30-day public comment period. It was negotiated and concluded in secret and GM secured a huge 40-year tax windfall. One local official mentioned that if GM were taxed according to local standards, the plant would be paying $10 million a year.

Next, GM is demanding dirt-cheap water rates from a nearby town. It wants state and local taxpayers to pay for a $30 million sewage hookup. It discloses little about the problems of water pollution, water runoff and the air pollution that are looming, especially from a new paint that GM is using on its cars. Company representatives are telling the community what kind of firefighting service it must add and telling the state what kind of highway links must be added.

Land, housing and commercial building prices are soaring. A rural way of life is going to change very quickly. For those local property owners who are looking to sell out and move away, this change is very lucrative. For those residents who want to stay, the felling of being pawns on a big chess board is growing.

Consequently, in the good old-fashioned American way, a Spring Hill Area Citizens Group has formed “to give all concerned citizens an open forum to address the issues, and to authorize our officers to present our petitions and resolutions to appropriate government officials and new media.”

Charging that “the negative side of Saturn has been overlooked” and that “the elected officials and bureaucrats have seized upon the situation to make ‘political hay,'” the citizens group is demanding answer to questions affecting the “life we have grown to love in Spring Hill.”

Saturn president William Hoglund has promised to heed local concerns and local culture. His promises are becoming ever distant from his company’s mode of operations here. More and more it looks like GM came to this rural area of Tennessee looking for a colony to exploit instead of a community to respect.

The volunteer state better start volunteering more citizens and governmental oversight and get the freeloading GM off welfare. If anyone here still believes that one auto plant is going to bring happier standards of living, without also bringing lots of costs to the community, they should journey up north to Flint and see what several auto plants have done to the city.