Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:12 pm
Less than three weeks after the legislation was introduced, the state Assembly approved a package clearing the way for $3 billion in tax incentives for Foxconn Technology Group to construct a $10 billion LCD panel manufacturing operation.
The vote was 59-30, with Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) and Democratic Reps. Cory Mason and Tod Ohnstad of Racine and Kenosha joining Republicans. Republicans Adam Jarchow of Balsam Lake and Todd Novak of Dodgeville voted against it.
The bill now goes to the state Senate, which has referred its version of the bill to the Joint Finance Committee.
Democrats in the Assembly also sought to refer the bill to the Joint Finance, but that effort failed on party lines. A number of amendments, similar to those offered in committee, were also tabled along similar lines.
Debate on the bill was largely along party lines and brought up a host of previous major projects and issues in the state, including the Milwaukee Bucks arena, incentives for Mercury Marine, Gogebic Taconite, job creation during Gov. Scott Walker’s time in office, funding for schools and higher education, and the state’s entrepreneurship environment.
Over the course of more than seven hours of debate, Democrats sought to present the deal as “corporate welfare” and a “handout,” often referencing the wealth of Foxconn chairman Terry Gou. Republicans, meanwhile, presented the bill as an opportunity to bring a new industry to the state and country.
“We need this, we need this shot in the arm,” said Rep. Tom Weatherston (R-Caledonia).
Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) was one of the few Democrats to speak in support of the bill. He said it was a difficult vote for him, but the challenge of bringing good jobs to the Racine area has been the most consistent message he has heard while in the Legislature.
He said there are things that could have been done to make the bill better, and acknowledged there are risks and the bill has been more politicized than he would have liked.
“When you hear the voice of hope,” Mason said, “all the politics fades away.”
Like Mason, Ohnstad said the bill could have been better and he was disappointed amendments offered by Democrats were rejected. But he also said if only half of the projected jobs are created, it will be a good thing for southeastern Wisconsin and he would vote for jobs.
Some Republicans acknowledged there are elements of the bill they are not comfortable with, with Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) saying he is opposed to negative tax credits and for tax simplicity.
“I think sometimes we need to put politics aside and look at the larger principles,” he said.
Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) said there are plenty in his party who would prefer the government was not involved in handing out tax credits, but also recounted his experience with efforts to keep Mercury Marine in the state.
“Your constituents are more interested in a good deal than your ideology,” Thiesfeldt said. “I think the connection between the two deals, Foxconn and Mercury Marine, are unmistakable.”
A number of other lawmakers also referenced the Mercury Marine deal, with some pointing to similarities with Foxconn and others saying it was an example of bipartisanship.
Rep. Lisa Subeck (D-Madison) said the comparison between the two didn’t fit, noting the Mercury Marine deal was around 1/46th the size of the Foxconn deal. She said it was like comparing apples and lemons.
“This deal is Scott Walker’s lemons,” she said, referencing the governor’s comment that those opposed to it could “suck lemons.”
Rep. Bob Kulp (R-Stratford) accused Democrats of “a built in arrogance and a narrowness here today that second-guesses this company.”
“We’re bringing a visionary entrepreneur to the state,” he said.
Rep. Dana Wachs (D-Eau Claire) and a candidate for governor, said he was appalled at parts of the deal and questioned the rush to push the bill through.
“When somebody tries to push something through quickly, it sends up red flags for me,” he said. “I’m for good jobs, but I’m against bad deals that give away billions of taxpayer dollars.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) told members just ahead of the vote to “reject skepticism” and support the bill.
“I know that there an awful lot of families that have daily challenges,” he said. “This is the vote, this is the hope that we are going to offer folks.”