Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:12 pm
A bill setting up $3 billion in state incentives for Foxconn Technology Group now only needs to clear the state Assembly again before going to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature after the Senate passed it 20 to 13 Tuesday, with Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Somers, the only Democrat joining Republicans in support.
Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, was the only Republican who joined Democrats in voting against the proposal.
Over the course of seven hours of debate Tuesday, Republicans voted down 11 amendments from Democrats seeking to bolster the prioritization of Wisconsin workers and companies, add more oversight to the project, and alter environmental provisions in the bill, among other things.
Two amendments put forward by Republicans were adopted. The first directed the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to include job thresholds for the $1.35 billion capital expenditure tax credits Foxconn will be eligible for. The second altered changes to handling court cases made by the Joint Finance Committee last week. Circuit court rulings will still go directly to the state Supreme Court and be automatically stayed on appeal, but the amendment sets up an expedited briefing schedule.
Madison Democratic Sen. Fred Riser said the court changes could make it difficult to enforce the contract between WEDC and Foxconn.
“No matter how important a contract provision is, the other side can just appeal and it’s stayed,” he said. “In my opinion it’s the worst part of the deal.”
Democrats often sought to compare the bill to legislation aimed at Gogebic Taconite’s plans for an iron mine in northern Wisconsin that didn’t become a reality.
“It sounds like the same transformation you talked about with the mining jobs,” said Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee. “Did those happen?”
But Republicans made the case that landing Foxconn set the state up to be a leader in advanced manufacturing. The company has said it would create up to 13,000 jobs and make a $10 billion capital investment. An analysis by Ernst and Young, which the company paid for, projected the project could create another 22,000 jobs at suppliers and surrounding businesses.
Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said the bill included enough transparency and accountability to protect taxpayers. She said the amendments from Democrats threatened to prevent WEDC from being able to complete contract negotiations with the company.
“Do you want to face that?” she said. “Do you want to be the ones that are going to say goodbye?”
Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, said the project would be transformational for the state and criticized Democrats for referencing President Ronald Reagan’s “trust but verify” line.
“If you were honest, you would realize what this bill does is increase employment opportunities,” she said. “Please, please stop with your adoration of the Gipper.”
Milwaukee Democrat Chris Larson at one point compared the deal to the Price is Right, arguing the bill comes with uncertainty about whether the company will go through with its promises.
“Wisconsin is better than this,” he said. “We’re better than giving it up for whatever is behind curtain number two. All indications are, it’s going to be a lemon.”
He later suggested the company was really only interested in the incentives the state was offering.
“I’d submit they’re marrying us for our money,” Larson said. “They don’t like us for us.”
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerals, R-Juneau, said he had hoped the legislation would have had more bipartisan support.
“I’m a little disappointed, maybe naïve,” he said.
He acknowledged there is risk involved in the bill and things could be done to add a higher level of comfort but there’s a Sept. 30 deadline for WEDC to finish a contract with the company.
“I’m glad this bill is before us. I think it is going to overwhelm all of us,” Fitzgerald said.
Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said he wanted to be able to support the bill but Democrats weren’t involved in the process.
“In the end, you’re not going to get a strong bipartisan vote if you don’t include both sides of the aisle,” he said.
Wirch represents a district that is mostly in Kenosha County but also includes portions of Racine County, which is expected to be the site of the Foxconn complex. He voted in favor the bill even after Kenosha dropped out of the running for the Foxconn campus Tuesday.