Governor Walker Touts Foxconn Deal as Criticism Grows
Gov. Walker continues to tout the planned Foxconn factory as "transformational." He wants the state to put forth $3 billion in incentives to help the Taiwanese company build its huge plant in southeastern Wisconsin. Yet critics' voices continue to get louder. They're bringing up a number of concerns.
And lawmakers are likely to get an earful from both critics and supporters, later this week.
Listening to Gov. Walker talk about the Foxconn plant, it sounds like a done deal. Here he was during a stop in Milwaukee on Tuesday: "We think anytime you’ve got the ability to bring 13,000 jobs in and a $10 billion investment we want to talk about that. We want to the public to engage in it. We found traveling the state of Wisconsin last Friday there are people excited, not only here in Southeastern Wisconsin, but all around the state of Wisconsin."
Walker says people understand the huge impact the plant will have, as Foxconn manufactures LCD screens for everything from self-driving cars to aircraft systems.
The Republican governor says up to 13,000 people will work for the company directly, while the project will generate another 22,000 related jobs.
But not everyone is sold on the plant -- or the bill Walker is pushing that would ease the way for its construction. Conservation groups are lining up to complain that the bill would loosen environmental regulations for the factory.
And as Walker touted the plant in his Milwaukee stop Tuesday, protesters gathered across the street to voice concerns about wages. The company has been promising salaries of more than $50,000. Yet Peter Rickman of the group Fight for 15 wants to make sure Foxconn doesn't change its mind and pay less than a living wage. The organization is demanding the company pay at least $15 an hour and allow workers to unionize, if they'd like.
"We are putting our faith here into both the lawmakers who are going to decide what happens with this massive $3 billion subsidy package and the movement of working people in this state that has been standing up saying $15 and a union is the expectation for every employer whether they're getting subsidies from the state of Wisconsin, from local governments or otherwise," he says.
Rickman wants lawmakers to include the guarantees in the Foxconn bill.
“We’ve seen the growth of a low wage economy in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin that has left working class people behind and decimated our middle class more than any other state in the country. So, I think it’s pretty fair to say that unless we get $15 and a union in the legislation or in a deal with Foxconn, Scott Walker’s not going to be the guy that pushes for living wages and workers’ rights,” Rickman says.
Another concern for some observers is a provision tucked into the legislation that would require state taxpayers to cover 40 percent of the loans taken out by municipalities for infrastructure costs, if the plant doesn't get off the ground.
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos addressed reporters Tuesday, trying to put to rest the worries about both taxpayer's investments and wages.
“They won’t get a single dollar until they’ve actually spent money on construction. So that is already in the bill. On the jobs credit, remember, it’s only paid for wages that are between at least $30,000 and no more than $100,000. So when they begin to hire people for the project after construction, then they would earn those tax credits. So there’s really about as much protection as we possibly could put into the bill because it requires direct spending on construction or direct spending on paychecks when people have already cashed the check,” he said.
Members of the public will have a chance to voice their thoughts about the Foxconn bill at a public hearing in Madison on Thursday.
Republican leaders hope to vote on the legislation within a couple of weeks. The company's goal is to break ground in 2018 and have the plant open in 2020.