Stop stalling. Stop the suspicious secrecy. Treat your board of directors and the taxpayers of Wisconsin with respect by letting them see the $3 billion Foxconn contract before it’s finalized.
That’s the clear message Gov. Scott Walker should deliver to Mark Hogan, who leads the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. — and who serves at the pleasure of the governor.
WEDC is negotiating the final details of the state’s agreement with Foxconn. The Taiwanese flat-screen manufacturer wants to locate a $10 billion facility in Racine County with at least 3,000, and as many as 10,000, jobs. In exchange, the state would deliver up to $2.85 billion in public tax dollars to help pay for Foxconn’s construction and payroll. The company also would be exempt from $150 million in sales taxes and some environmental rules.
But lots of details remain unclear, including how the state might recoup money if Foxconn doesn’t live up to its promises, and whether outside agreements exist.
WEDC’s board of directors could vote on a final contract as early as next week. So board member and state Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, understandably wants to see the full contract at least 48 hours in advance of being asked to vote on it.
So far, WEDC has refused, with its CEO Mark Hogan saying he plans to stick with the standard practice of giving board members a staff summary of the contract before it votes — not the contract itself. Hogan’s “that’s the way we’ve always done it” excuse for secrecy ignores that Wisconsin has never entered into such an expensive and potentially risky venture. This isn’t just another government subsidy. It’s unprecedented.
And it’s not just Carpenter demanding to see every detail. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, told State Journal reporter Matthew DeFour this week they agree the WEDC board should be allowed to view all of the contract language.
The easiest way to ensure that happens is for the governor, who is Hogan’s boss, to direct the longtime banker to disclose the full contract — not just to the board, but to the public, which is paying the bill. And if the governor fails to side with openness, the WEDC board should alter its bylaws to require the agency to reveal full contracts at least 48 hours before final votes.
A little transparency is more than warranted given the size of this deal and WEDC’s mixed record of properly vetting and tracking much smaller business incentives in the past.