Wisconsin’s Joint Finance Committee passed an amended version of a bill offering Foxconn Technology Group up to $3 billion in incentives in exchange for a $10 billion investment and the creation of 13,000 jobs on a pair of party line votes Tuesday.
[caption id="attachment_325171" align="alignright" width="350"] Foxconn products on display at WCTC.[/caption]
The bill, which has already passed the state Assembly, still has to pass the full Senate and will now have to pass the Assembly again. Republicans have majorities in both houses. Gov. Scott Walker said today he expects the Foxconn bill and the state budget will pass both houses next week. He would then sign both during the week of Sept. 18.
The committee amended the legislation to allow the state Supreme Court to have direct review of any circuit court decisions related to the electronics and information technology manufacturing zone created under the bill.
Filing an appeal would also automatically stay any circuit court ruling related to a decision by a state or local official when it comes to the zone.
The latest change to the bill gave Democrats a new target in their arguments against the legislation, but Republicans defended the package as an historic opportunity for the state.
“We’re having discussions about bringing an entire industry to Wisconsin, an entire industry to America, an entire industry to the western hemisphere, to the free world,” said Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield.
He acknowledged he is concerned about some elements of the legislation, particularly the refundable tax credits that will mean the company receives cash from the state, but said the whole picture makes the investment worthwhile.
“The Wisconsin work ethic is worth what we’re investing in it,” said Marinette Republican Rep. John Nygren, a JFC co-chair.
He said Foxconn could have represented a victory for everyone, but Democrats couldn’t take a victory on something brought forward by Walker.
But Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, argued the bill had gone beyond just addressing Foxconn and he “would have loved to have supported a bipartisan plan.”
“This isn’t anti-jobs, this isn’t anti-Wisconsin. This is the Democrats saying we should get this right,” Erpenbach said.
Democrats and Republicans have also disagreed on just what the bill will mean for the environment. That disagreement continued Tuesday with co-chair Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, and others taking turns asking Legislative Fiscal Bureau representatives to confirm their views of the environmental protections in the bill.
The disagreement centers on whether the bill lifts environmental standards or only streamlines the process for getting approvals. Both sides had elements of their views confirmed by staff.
Walker said last week he is open to expanding the Foxconn environmental process to other businesses around the state. He said the project will be among the most scrutinized in the country and if it can balance the environment and the economy other companies should be able to do the same.
Beyond changes to the legal process, the JFC amendment also increased the amount of money available in the next budget for grants to local governments from $10 million to $15 million. It also allowed technical college districts to be awarded those grants.
Gateway Technical College officials said at a public hearing on their campus they would need $5 million to expand their training center by 1,000 students to meet the demand for Foxconn’s workforce.
The amended bill also subjects the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to annual audits of its verification of Foxconn’s tax credits for the first five years of the project.
It also eliminates an increase in the number of enterprise zones WEDC can create. The agency had sought an increase from 30 to 35, saying it currently has 12 projects in the pipeline and 22 active enterprise zones.