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Politics & Government

State Assembly Approves Foxconn Incentives

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The State Assembly on Thursday approved the Foxconn bill

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle made emotional pleas in Madison on Thursday, urging colleagues to pass – or reject – the Foxconn bill. After seven hours of debate, the state Assembly approved the bill on a vote of 59-30.

The vote was largely along party lines, but some Democrats found themselves supporting the bill.

Foxconn wants to build a 20 million square foot facility -- likely in Racine or Kenosha County -- to manufacture LCD screens. The company says it will invest $10 billion in the project. During the Assembly debate Thursday, Speaker Robin Vos praised Gov. Walker and Republican legislators for creating a business climate that attracted the Taiwanese firm.

“We now have right-to-work, we now have the manufacturing tax credit, we have all the Act 10 reforms that got government right-sized, we’ve cut government red tape and we’ve done it all while maintaining the excellent quality of our schools and a workforce that is the envy of the free world,” Vos said.

Republican Mary Felzkowski, of Irma in northern Wisconsin, urged fellow lawmakers to approve the GOP incentives package -- an unprecedented $3 billion in size. She argues Foxconn's plant would produce an enormous ripple effect and said many businesses in her district could serve as suppliers.

“Packaging Corporation of America is one of my largest employers. They make corrugated medium that goes inside of cardboard. Do you think Foxconn will produce a product that needs to be shipped in a cardboard box?” Felzkowski asked.

Since Republicans unveiled the Foxconn bill a few weeks ago, many Democrats have voiced their opposition. One of their concerns is the size of the incentives package, and the possibility that the company won't make good on its promise to employ 3,000 -- and possibly up to 13,000-- people.

Gordon Hintz of Oshkosh argued the burden on taxpayers would be too great to bear. He pointed to estimates that show Wisconsin wouldn’t begin to recoup its $3 billion investment until 2043.

"How much Kool-Aid do you have to drink? Is it wise to force taxpayers to make a 15 year investment with a quarter century payback under the best scenario on a highly automated plant in a global economy, where technology is constantly changing? Hintz asked.

Democrat Melissa Sargent of Madison shared her fears about the potential risk to the environment, since the bill would roll back regulations for Foxconn. She said the measure raises some “serious red flags... which could have drastic consequences on our wetlands, on the Great Lakes and on other local water supplies."

Democrats tried to amend the bill to address their concerns. And they made a motion to send the measure to the Joint Finance Committee for further study. But Republicans rejected the efforts.

GOP leaders who were hoping for a bipartisan vote got their wish when Cory Mason of Racine spoke up. The Democrat said he has reservations about the bill, and had hoped that portions of it would have been changed.

But Mason said Racine has lost a number of major manufacturers over the past few decades, and desperately needs the new jobs. So, he said he couldn't say no to the bill designed to make the Foxconn plant possible.

“It returns our community back to the dignity of work, of letting people know that they can do something with their own two hands and provide for their family, with good middle class jobs,” Mason said.

Other Democrats who voted in favor of the measure include Tod Ohnstad and Minority Leader Peter Barca, both of Kenosha.

The Foxconn incentives package will head next to the state Senate. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has indicated that his chamber planned to take more time going through the bill to make sure lawmakers are comfortable with its contents.

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