Recently, as a member of the Joint Committee on Finance, I participated in a public hearing in which members of the Walker Administration presented information and responded to questions regarding the pending deal of Taiwanese tech giant Foxconn. Joined by business leaders, area legislators, community groups and residents, many showed up to voice their support, opposition or express concerns regarding the proposed $3 billion incentives package offered to lure the company to Wisconsin. It should also be noted, that Foxconn did NOT have a representative present to answer any questions. Problem one.
Already touted as the largest incentive package in US history, many have questioned a corporate giveaway of this size that offers few guarantees to Wisconsin taxpayers. Hosted in Sturtevant, at Gateway College, we pressed for details of whether giving up to $1.5 billion in job creation tax credits, $1.35 billion in tax credits for capital investments, and $150 million to exempt Foxconn from paying sales and use taxes was worth the amount of jobs the Walker administration has claimed will be provided. The Foxconn bill also includes more than $250 million for the I-94 North-South freeway, and $10 million to keep Fiserv Inc. headquarters in Wisconsin. So, as you can guess there was a lot of ground to cover. However, due to the Walker administration fast-tracking this deal, with little time to flesh out the REAL details, none of us understand the full ramifications of this deal. But we have been told that it could take until 2043 to break even on this proposal. Problem two.
After listening to representatives from the departments of Administration, Natural Resources, Revenue, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and others, there were numerous holes, unknowns, and ill-thought responses to far too many of the questions or issues raised. Of particular note to Milwaukee, is that the state currently has a 3.2% unemployment rate. However, for African-Americans in Milwaukee, overall unemployment is roughly 17% and over 50% for black males specifically. Yet, as the state considers expending $3 billion dollars to “bring jobs,” there has been little done to connect Milwaukee’s community to these jobs. Whether some form of regional transit or a requirement from Foxconn to offer transportation alternatives, it is irresponsible not to address unemployment in Milwaukee, as we spend this enormous amount of money with a private company. Problem three.
Distressingly, early studies also indicate that 40-50% of the purported 22,000 construction and indirect jobs created during the building phase will be filled by non-state residents. Illinois has gleefully discussed the number of jobs their residents will get by driving across the state border each day, which will be subsidized by Wisconsin taxpayers. This deal should contain language that gives preference to state residents in hiring. In fact, the numbers of expected hires differ between the company and estimates put out by Walker. Foxconn’s estimates have been significantly lower. However, several additional areas presented concerns. Problem four.
Walker’s crew was unable to adequately answer questions about wastewater discharge, chemical contaminants, pollutants, or most of the environmental anxieties regarding Foxconn’s operations. Problem five and counting.