MacIver News Service | Aug. 10 2017
By M.D. Kittle
[Madison, Wis...] - Senate Republicans are ready to deal with the proposed Foxconn Technology Group incentives package, but finishing the budget remains a priority.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald stepped out of a two-and-a-half-hour meeting Thursday afternoon with a bounce in his step.
"We just had an outstanding two hours in there," the Juneau Republican said of the sessions with caucus members and Walker administration officials. "I thought we made a lot of headway and got a lot of good answers."
Senate President Roger Roth said he referred the Senate Foxconn bill to the Joint Finance Committee earlier in the day, and Fitzgerald said he's hopeful JFC can get back to business for three days of budget and Foxconn bill work, Aug. 22-24.
"That would give them the balance of that week to try and wrap up any action on the budget," the majority leader said. "I guess I'm moving more to, the budget needs to get done first...if we can get both of these things done simultaneously, though, we would be in a good position to finish up the budget and also get Foxconn done once people are comfortable with that bill."
Senate Republicans came to the session with a lot of questions, many of them involving job creation. They want to know the timeline for hiring, not only for the potential 13,000 jobs Foxconn said it would like to create at a proposed manufacturing campus in southeast Wisconsin, but also for the thousands of construction jobs that would be needed to build a complex estimated be the size of 11 Lambeau Fields.
Fitzgerald said there was a lot of discussion about the difference between the memorandum of understanding signed by Foxconn and Gov. Scott Walker and the final contract to be worked out by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.
Mark Hogan, WEDC secretary and CEO, told Senate Republicans the MOU is simply an agreement between Foxconn and the state to eventually strike a final agreement. The contract is where the rights and responsibilities of the parties are spelled out.
Hogan told the senators that one of WEDC's goals for the contract is setting benchmarks for job creation. The $3 billion incentives package, as written, would provide Foxconn with tax credits on capital expenditures and for hiring. But the bill doesn't include language that says "x amount of jobs will be in place by a certain day," Fitzgerald said.
WEDC, according to Fitzgerald, prefers the legislation as written, with perhaps one technical amendment. So does the Senate, apparently.
"Right now I don't see the Senate having a lot of amendments to the bill that was originally drafted," Fitzgerald said.
The Assembly has put together more than a dozen amendments to the bill since Thursday, when the Assembly Committee on Jobs and the Economy held a marathon public hearing on the Foxconn bill.
State Rep. Adam Neylon (R-Pewaukee), chairman of the committee, met with Fitzgerald Thursday morning and went over the proposed amendments.
Fitzgerald said the language is pretty specific, although he's not sure if some of the amendments are necessary.
He confirmed that one amendment specifically deals with the annexation of the small Racine County town of Yorkville into the Village of Mount Pleasant.
In an interview with MacIver News Service Thursday morning on the Jay Weber Show, Fitzgerald said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) is "making an anticipatory kind of judgment that (the Foxconn project) will be located in Racine and not Kenosha." Vos' district includes Racine County. Foxconn has not selected a site yet, but it is presumed that the project would be located in Racine or Kenosha counties.
"When I've spoken to the speaker about this, he has definitely given me the impression that he thinks Racine is the place it should be built and it makes more sense there," Fitzgerald said, voicing concern about an "assumption" that "Racine (County) is going to be the location and Kenosha (County) has fallen by the wayside."
Vos said the potential sites were chosen by Foxconn, not legislators.
"It's only natural for a legislator to want the development in their district," he said in a statement to MacIver News Service. "However, as Assembly Speaker, I'm looking out for what's best for all of Wisconsin for the benefit of the entire state. We want this legislation to become law so thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic development can come to the state."
On the budget front, it appears full repeal of the business-hated personal property tax isn't in the cards this session. Fitzgerald said there are growing concerns of a softening economy and what that might do to state revenue. He said the goal is to find at least some of the approximately $240 million needed to eliminate the tax, about $120 million on the high end, and hold some cash back to deal with any potential cash flow issues.
"I think we have to be serious about it and see what we could do to address it," the majority leader said.