MADISON — Since the first whispers that the Foxconn Technology Group was planning a development in Wisconsin, many in the state have been in opposition to the project. In the race for governor, it seems that trend will continue.
Since the agreement between the state and Foxconn was signed last November, Republican Gov. Scott Walker has been touting the agreement as a positive for the state and its future.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers, the state superintendent of public instruction, believes the state could have done better.
“Just about anyone could’ve cut a better deal with Foxconn than Scott Walker did,” Evers said in response to questions emailed to him by The Journal Times. “With Foxconn, it’s been asterisk after asterisk and their end of the bargain seems to change by the day. It’s a lousy deal, and we’re going to have to hold Foxconn’s feet to the fire going forward.”
In 2017, the state Legislature passed a tax incentive package that could provide Foxconn up to $2.85 billion in tax credits if certain hiring and construction goals are met. As part of the deal, Foxconn plans to invest $10 billion in the project and plans to create up to 13,000 jobs.
Evers criticized the agreement, saying it was passed “without much transparency, accountability for job creation or claw-back provisions to protect Wisconsin taxpayers’ investment.”
Evers did not say he would undo or change the agreement with Foxconn if elected governor.
“We can, and we should, compel them to be good corporate citizens,” Evers said.
Evers added when the new home of the Milwaukee Bucks, the Fiserv Forum, was being built, “it was wildly controversial for us to use public funding.”
“But we prioritized ensuring the Bucks were hiring a diverse workforce and treating employees fairly, and I think they’ve exceeded expectations, and we should have the same expectations for Foxconn, whether it’s on issues of hiring, pay, the environment or others,” Evers said.
Austin Altenburg, press secretary for Walker’s campaign, said Evers “puts at risk everything that made tens-of-thousands of jobs possible for the Racine area and all of Wisconsin through Foxconn’s historic investment.”
“He failed during the primary to reject the far left of his party that would undo the Foxconn deal, refusing to stand up for Wisconsin’s workers,” Altenburg said. “And now he wants to enact policies that would make this kind of project impossible with higher property and income taxes, as well as no effective state agency to recruit businesses. He’s risking good-paying, family-supporting jobs just because Scott Walker is for them.”
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. was one of the key state agencies that helped bring Foxconn to Wisconsin.
If elected, Evers said he would “disband the WEDC and I’ll replace it with a state agency that, unlike the WEDC, is accountable to taxpayers — that’s critical.”
“I’ve been pretty clear that WEDC has been a black eye for Wisconsin — they’ve overpromised and underdelivered and demonstrated time and again that they can’t be trusted with our tax dollars, and as a taxpayer,” Evers said. “I don’t trust them with a $4 billion giveaway like the one to Foxconn.”
Evers said he plans to replace the WEDC “with a state agency that works on trade missions, job creation and supporting and investing in businesses in Wisconsin.”
“It will likely be similar to the former Department of Commerce, but I want to seek input and work with local businesses, industry experts and leaders, and the Legislature to ensure that we have accountability and transparency in using taxpayer dollars,” Evers said.
Evers added that agency would “track and substantiate job creation and retention, and will have a strong, regional focus that can specialize in area industries and invest in local small businesses and startups.”
Other tax deals
Walker recently called on the state Senate to return to session to pass a roughly $100 million tax incentive package to keep two Kimberly-Clark paper plants open in central Wisconsin.
The state Assembly passed legislation last year to give aid to Kimberly-Clark, which is planning cuts to its employment staff in an effort to save roughly 600 jobs.
The legislation has been criticized by both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, who see the legislation as a bailout, and some legislators have attempted to compare the Kimberly-Clark deal as another, albeit smaller, version of the Foxconn deal.
“The bottom line is that Scott Walker set a dangerous precedent with Foxconn, and he prioritized giving a foreign corporation $4 billion over investing in Wisconsin companies and main street businesses,” Evers said. “We can’t keep picking winners and losers.
“We have to do everything we can to keep Wisconsin businesses here, but at the end of the day there’s more to economic development than cutting last-minute checks. We have to do more to work within our communities and with local chambers of commerce to invest in our businesses.”