Walker supports changes to Wisconsin budget

Gladys Abbott
September 14, 2017

Wisconsin Senate Democrats say they will push for changes to a $3 billion incentive package for electronics giant Foxconn Technology Group that would protect taxpayers and the environment.

"I think we've improved this bill significantly with the changes we have made", Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said. It would take 25 years for taxpayers to see a return on the investment, according to an estimate from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Foxconn could get almost $3 billion in cash payments if it hires 13,000 people and invests $10 billion on the flat-screen production facility.

"This is the largest state giveaway to a foreign corporation in the nation's history", said Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling, of La Crosse. It could also qualify for $150 million in sales tax exemptions for construction equipment.

Democrats also sought to cast the debate in geographic terms.

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Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said the bill puts too few stipulations on Foxconn in exchange for a big payout from taxpayers. Another would have scrapped proposed rollbacks of environmental protections for the Foxconn project. It also eliminates Foxconn's responsibility to create an environmental impact statement that would allow the public to review all the possible harm that could be done to air, water and soil.

The proposed subsidy - which now heads to the state Assembly for a final vote Thursday - would be the largest ever from a US state to a foreign company and 10 times bigger than anything Wisconsin has extended to a private business. The requirement had been added last week by the Legislature's budget committee. At least three Republican senators are demanding major 11th-hour changes to the document, including prohibiting the University of Wisconsin System from spending on diversity training, dramatically raising the income eligibility limit for the statewide school voucher program and repealing the state prevailing wage within months.

"This budget helps thousands of families throughout our state", Nygren said on the Assembly floor.

Legal experts had questioned the constitutionality of that expedited appeals process which skipped over the state appeals court. Conservative justices now hold a 5-2 majority on the high court.

But the plan that passed the Senate would still temporarily block lower court decisions involving Foxconn as soon as they're appealed.

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