MacIver News Service | Aug. 11, 2017
By M.D. Kittle
[Madison, Wis...] - Assembly Republicans rolled out a Substitute Amendment package Friday for their Foxconn incentives bill that Rep. Adam Neylon describes as "the very best bill we are able to draft at this time."
The Pewaukee Republican, chairman of the Assembly Committee on Jobs and the Economy, told reporters in a press call Friday afternoon that the committee will vote on the bill and its seven additions Monday afternoon.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said the plan is to take the amended bill to the Assembly floor Thursday. Vos said he has the votes to pass it.
"I am very confident this bill will pass on Thursday. My hope is it will do so in a bipartisan fashion," the speaker said. Republicans, generally supportive of the $3 billion incentives package, hold a significant majority in the Assembly, the largest since the late 1950s.
The amendments include:
- Wisconsin Worker Training: Provides $20 million in new funds in the next biennium to the state Department of Workforce Development. DWD would work with local universities, colleges, technical schools and nonprofits to create a plan to provide worker training and employment for suppliers, vendors, and companies impacted by Foxconn's plan to create as many as 13,000 jobs, not including the expected 10,000 construction jobs involved in building Foxconn's proposed 20 million square foot liquid crystal display complex in southeast Wisconsin.
The worker training program also directs the UW System and technical colleges to explore partnerships to provide comprehensive electronic manufacturing training.
"One of the most important priorities we had was to make sure we can continue to fill the pipeline with workers," Vos said. Not just the thousands needed to work at Foxconn and related jobs, but the positions vacated by employees leaving their current jobs for opportunities at Foxconn or within the supply chain, he said.
Wisconsin, like other states in the Midwest, faces a severe worker shortage. With an unemployment rate at levels not seen since the late 1990s, filling the pipeline becomes all the more critical.
- Promoting Statewide Economic Development: The amendment directs the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to hire a full-time Electronics Manufacturing Small Business Development director. The position would work with local economic development efforts "so that communities and businesses across the state can benefit" from Foxconn, according to the amendments package.
- Prioritizing Wisconsin Workers: The amendment instructs WEDC to include language in its final contract with Foxconn promoting Wisconsin workers when "practically possible."
Vos said the state cannot demand the company hire only Wisconsin workers. That would be unconstitutional.
- Transportation Bonding Accountability: The amendment requires Joint Finance Committee oversight of transportation bonding involved in the Foxconn project, principally for the Interstate 94 North-South expansion. The incentives package calls for about $250 million in General Purpose Revenue bonding, contingent on a federal match.
Vos confirmed there are no guarantees what the match will be, and amendment writers were advised not to include a specific number. Doing so, Vos said, would hurt the state's chances at securing federal funding.
- Strengthening Environmental Protections: The amendment explicitly specifies all areas where the Department of Natural Resources must maintain environmental oversight. DNR must identify and consider wetland mitigation solutions in the same watershed.
Environmentalists have raised concerns that the bill, while requiring two acres of wetland replacement for every one acre disturbed, doesn't specify where that replacement has to take place. Replacing wetlands outside the watershed does little to protect the environment of the area impacted, they say.
-Addressing Local Needs: The amendment allows tax incremental district funds to be used in the construction of fire and police stations. Local officials from Kenosha and Racine counties, where the Foxconn project is expected to be built, sought the expansive language to help them meet the emergency services needs of what promises to be a manufacturing city unto itself.
The bill also authorizes the use of local sales tax revenue bonds to pay for infrastructure needs.
And the amendments package clarifies language in the bill to ensure tax credits to Foxconn aren't paid unless the job pays a minimum salary of $30,000 per year.
Assembly Democrats blasted the timing of the release of the substitute amendment and the scheduling of the Jobs Committee hearing.
"It's remarkable that with a vote scheduled for Monday, we just received the Republican amendment," said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) in a statement. "The Legislature and the public will have little to no time to review these changes. It's clear that Republicans are trying to rush through the process to avoid as much scrutiny as possible."
Neylon said that many of the amendments, at least portions of them, were suggested by Democrats.
"This isn't about doing it fast, it's about doing it right," the chairman said, adding there will be plenty of time for committee members to read the amendment proposals over the weekend before a vote Monday afternoon.
The substitute amendment doesn't include the jobs benchmarks that Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) has requested for the incentives package.
While job-creation benchmarks make sense "on the surface," Neylon said they are unnecessary based on the "pay-as-you grow" language of the bill.
"The tax credits Foxconn would earn are on jobs created that are over $30,000," he told MacIver News Service Friday on the Dan O'Donnell Show, on Newstalk 1130 in Milwaukee. In other words, Foxconn receives a tax credit check after, and only after, it cuts a paycheck for its employee.