Editorial cartoon (9/6/2017)

It's hard not to notice the op/eds and position papers emanating from some of Wisconsin's special interests claiming that not to OK Scott Walker's $3 billion deal with Foxconn would be shortsighted and downright foolish.

Many have been availing themselves of space provided by Wisconsin's largest newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, to urge lawmakers to give the deal their stamp of approval so that Foxconn can start building its $10 billion plant in southeast Wisconsin and lavish Wisconsin with at least 10,000 jobs within a few short years and, according to one UW economics professor who has a history as a Walker pal, up to 50,000 jobs when you factor in the suppliers and other auxiliary companies that would sprout like crocuses in the spring.

Realtors' groups, chambers of commerce, conservative politicians and, of course, good old Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce are proclaiming that we should throw caution to the wind and get on with it.

It's true that no one is opposed to landing a corporation, foreign or not, in the state to provide our struggling workers with the possibility of finding a job. But the question isn't only about that — rather it's about how much of the state's precious financial resources we're willing to lavish on what is really a gamble and what additionally our local governments and our environmental heritage may lose in this deal.

Something tells me that this Walker gambit is more generous than it needs to be and the safeguards aren't there to make sure the state doesn't lose its shirt in the uncertain years ahead. No workers will be helped if that turns out to be the case. That's why many others are saying, "Whoa, let's get a better look at what we're about to saddle the state's taxpayers with until 25 years from now when the investment is supposed to start paying off."

We're about to embark, after all, on a plan that gives the largest government payoff to a private corporation in the history of state government. Many are willing to forge ahead with the deal if it can be shown that, first of all, we can afford it, and that there are safeguards to protect our public schools, universities and highways from suffering the consequences if things go wrong.

Wisconsinites have already sacrificed for the Walker and Republican "reforms" that financed corporate tax cuts and outright gifts to big business interests that were supposed to grow jobs and spur the state's economy long before now.

What always rankles me, though, is that the first special interests willing to put their stamp of approval on an incredibly huge pot of corporate welfare are the very same ones that will fight tooth and nail against school referendums, extra money for highway and street maintenance, and any other local expenditures that just might raise taxes a few dollars for the public good.

And let's make no mistake about it, there will be costs — especially to local governments — from the Foxconn deal. School districts will need some more money to expand buildings and hire more teachers to serve hundreds of new children. Cities will need to build streets and provide services for more people, from more fire prevention to law enforcement.

A good problem to have? Perhaps, if the same interests that seem to have no problem with coaxing Foxconn here with billions of dollars would also understand the duty they have to help pay for the needs of everyday Wisconsinites. Under Walker's deal, Foxconn won't be contributing any tax help for a couple of decades.

An example of how corporate welfare can shift costs was outlined by Monona Ald. Andrew Kitslaar in an op/ed on these pages last week. There's a "dark store" loophole in state tax law that courts are ruling big box stores can use to reduce the property taxes they pay to the municipalities in which they're located.

The loophole allows big stores like Walmart, Menards and Shopko to reduce their assessed value to what it would be if the store were vacant. Kitslaar said that Walmart in Monona, if successful in court, could have its assessment reduced from the current $28.5 million to $9.5 million, which would immediately reduce what it pays in property taxes by $433,000 — a loss of about $111,000 to the city and $245,000 to the school district.

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And guess who would have to make up the difference? Homeowners and small businesses, of course. 

Meanwhile, the big stores have placed burdens on the city to add cops and firefighters, build access roads and extend utilities. At least there are bills in the Legislature now that would close the loophole; we'll see what happens with them.

You can bet where many of these vocal people saying "Let's give Foxconn $3 billion" will stand. Let the little guys pay the bills.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel

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Dave is editor emeritus of The Capital Times.