An Assembly committee Monday gave the green light to a package of incentives designed to convince Taiwanese electronics manufacturing giant Foxconn to build its first U.S. plant in Wisconsin.
The Republican-controlled Assembly Committee on Jobs and the Economy voted 8-5 along party lines to advance Gov. Scott Walker’s bill that provides Foxconn with nearly $3 billion in tax credits, exempts the company from a number of environmental regulations and spends $20 million in state funds on job training to ensure the state’s workforce is prepared to fill the 13,000 jobs the company has promised to create.
The full Assembly is scheduled to vote on the package Thursday.
Republicans rejected nearly two dozen Democratic amendments, including ensuring 70 percent of the proposed Foxconn plant’s workers would be Wisconsin residents and that Wisconsin contractors would work on building the proposed manufacturing campus.
Rep. Tod Ohnstad, D-Kenosha, who represents the area near where Foxconn is looking to build, voted against the bill. Ohnstad said he had too many unanswered questions Monday, but hoped he could review more information by Thursday.
“I’ve certainly had a lot of constituents that have expressed concerns about the environmental clauses, that express concerns about the price tag and express concerns that this might not be the best thing for Kenosha and Racine,” Ohnstad said after the vote. “But once again, I want to express that people are very, very excited about the possibility of thousands of jobs.”
Republicans said amendments to Walker’s bill that the committee adopted Monday have added some of the protections Democrats want. They included asking state officials negotiating the final contract with Foxconn to add a goal of hiring Wisconsin-based workers and making sure enough workers in the state are available to be hired and at a livable wage.
The amendments also call for providing $20 million to the Department of Workforce Development after 2019 for job training, requiring the state’s jobs agency to provide tax credits only for jobs that have a salary of at least $30,000 per year and allowing tax incremental financing funds to be used for fire, police and other government services.
The lawmakers also want state officials negotiating a final contract with Foxconn to emphasize that workers living in Wisconsin should be given preference for hiring. But Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has acknowledged that requiring that preference could be illegal.
If Foxconn fills a wetland during its construction process, Assembly lawmakers also want to require the creation of two wetlands in its place in the same watershed, if possible.
“This is an investment that makes sense and we cannot look the other way and let this go by,” Rep. Bob Kulp, R-Stratford, said before voting for the package.
Senate leader: Assembly action ‘irrelevant’
Meanwhile, a leader of the state Senate said Monday the Assembly’s action this week is “largely irrelevant” because the legislation must go through the Legislature’s budget-writing committee, and that changes recently made to the bill by Assembly Republicans may not have support from Walker or Senate Republicans.
Senate President Roger Roth, R-Appleton, told WTAQ on Monday that the speed at which the Assembly has pushed the Foxconn bill has the Senate on the outside looking in.
“They’ve had their hearing prior to receiving the whole fiscal analysis, they’re going to pass amendments out which I’m not even sure have the support of the administration let alone the Senate today, they’re going to vote on the bill on Thursday and the Senate’s totally sidelined in that process,” Roth said. “Whatever the Assembly does this week is largely irrelevant because when they pass their bill on Thursday it’s going to come to my office and I’m going to send it to the Joint Finance Committee.”
That committee is made up of lawmakers from both the Assembly and the Senate.
Roth also said there is a “great deal” of support for the Foxconn bill and predicted the package would pass the Senate.
He indicated more changes could be made to the bill after it is taken up by the budget-writing committee, which also hasn’t finished its work on the 2017-19 state budget.
“This is a complicated bill, and that’s not to say that it’s not going to pass or that it shouldn’t pass, but it’s something that cannot and should not be rushed,” Roth told the radio station.
A spokesman for Walker did not say whether Walker supported the changes.
“Governor Walker is working closely with the Legislature to advance this bill and he looks forward to signing it into law in the coming weeks,” spokesman Tom Evenson said.
But Vos told reporters on Friday that the changes made to the bill were made with officials from Walker’s administration and that he had asked Senate Republicans to hold joint hearings on the Foxconn legislation but was rejected, prompting him to “go it alone.”
New jobs analysis
Walker proposed the legislation after Foxconn said they wanted to build a $10 billion, 20 million-square-foot campus in southeastern Wisconsin that would employ thousands of workers to create LCD panels.
An analysis commissioned last month by Foxconn of the impact to the state’s economy showed the number of jobs created through the construction process and through suppliers could reach 35,000. But a new analysis commissioned by state officials and released Monday showed the ripple effect could be between 4,000 and 10,000 fewer jobs.
Lawmakers are more than a month late in passing a new state spending plan. Roth said he hopes the Foxconn bill will provide the “momentum necessary” to get a consensus from Republicans in the Senate and the Assembly who have been at odds for months over transportation funding.
Roth said he wants the state budget to be passed before the Foxconn legislation. Assembly Republicans have said they want the Foxconn bill passed before the state budget.