There’s an old saying in politics, when counting votes anything other than “yes” is “no.”
That same wisdom applies to Gov. Walker’s proposed $3 billion-plus subsidy to induce Taiwanese-based Foxconn to locate a factory in Wisconsin. If protecting workers, taxpayers and our environment isn’t in the law, it’s not going to happen.
We’re being asked to sacrifice billions that could fund our public schools, our roads and bridges or investments in new small businesses and entrepreneurs. According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, under the most rosy scenario, we won’t break even on this Foxconn deal until 2043. We’ll lose over $307 million in the 2019 state budget and we’ll be down $1 billion over the next 15 years.
So what’s the deal missing? Here are four critical provisions, to start.
Guaranteeing Wisconsin tax dollars support Wisconsin jobs and businesses.
Those promoting the Foxconn deal have made grandiose promises about jobs and investments. But there are no assurances our Wisconsin tax dollars be spent on jobs for Wisconsin taxpayers or that construction subsidies are earned by purchasing goods and services from Wisconsin businesses and contractors.
The bill fails to include the same goals for disabled veteran-owned businesses that are in other state-funded project agreements. Nothing in this deal prevents our money from subsidizing jobs held by people who live in Illinois, other states and even other countries. There should be a provision.
Getting our money back.
Foxconn has a habit of overpromising and under-delivering on jobs and capital investment. Gov. Walker’s Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, charged with verifying eligibility for subsidies as part of this deal, has a history of coming up short on accountability on grants and loans they oversee.
Having Walker’s WEDC oversee a deal the size of Foxconn is a recipe for disaster. We need to have explicit provisions about why we can ask for our money back and exactly how we get it. Anything less is a blank check.
Enforcing safe working conditions and labor standards.
It is an understatement that Foxconn lacks a sterling record of respecting workers. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Foxconn's CEO previously referred to his employees as animals and sought management advice from a zookeeper to underscore this point. This from an operation at which employees threatened mass suicides over working conditions and unpaid wages, that installed “suicide nets” and required workers to sign promises to not kill themselves.
Wisconsin taxpayers should not be subsidizing businesses that treat their workers poorly, here or anywhere else. Before getting our money, Foxconn should be required to abide by labor standards in all operations, ensure workers in Wisconsin are treated well and respect their American freedom to stand together as a team with their coworkers in a union.
Guaranteeing health and water quality
Wisconsin laws require major projects to have environmental impact statements to help anticipate and address environmental issues that may arise and to protect the health of residents and our air and water. Our laws also recognize that wetlands are important for protecting water quality and preventing flooding.
There’s no reason we have to sacrifice our health or clean water for job creation, and Foxconn ought to held to the same standards as everyone else for their project. As it stands right now, they’re not.
So instead of what we have now, let’s get to “yes” on protecting Wisconsin workers, Wisconsin taxpayers and Wisconsin air and water.
Scot Ross is the executive director of One Wisconsin Now.
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