Wisconsin deserves better than Foxconn's constant waffling

Wisconsin deserves better than Foxconn's constant waffling
© Getty Images

From the beginning, the Foxconn incentive package drew scrutiny. The initial cost to taxpayers — at $3 billion — turned heads. Waivers granted to Foxconn from doing an environmental impact study left many Wisconsin residents worried about their air and water.

But advocates for the project, led by former Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, highlighted 13,000 jobs and a $10 billion factory that would create a ripple effect across the state.

ADVERTISEMENT

Now, recent reports question if the promised $10 billion plant will happen at all. In an interview with Reuters, Foxconn representative Louis Woo walked backed the company’s commitment to building an LCD manufacturing facility, citing “new realities” globally.

Woo went on to state that “in Wisconsin we’re not building a factory. You can’t use a factory to view our Wisconsin investment.”

In an incredible reversal days later, Foxconn released a statement announcing an entirely new vision for the site — an alleged manufacturing facility and technology hub — that potentially conflicts with Foxconn’s obligations in state and local contracts.

The news follows other concerning project developments. While Foxconn promised to build a state-of-the-art Gen 10.5 factory, the company changed course and said it would build a cheaper, smaller Gen 6 facility.

In addition, Foxconn has raised doubts over its hiring promises. In Wisconsin, Foxconn failed to meet its job-creation target for 2018. Globally, Foxconn planned to cut 100,000 jobs by the end of 2018 and slash $2.9 billion in costs in 2019.

Core elements of the deal keep changing, leaving taxpayers in the dark about when — or if — the state will see a return on its investment.

In light of these shifting plans, we have seen one consistent trend: increasing costs to taxpayers. Just months after the taxpayer subsidies were approved, the public cost of the Foxconn project increased from $3 billion to $4.5 billion.

Early into 2019, county and local officials around the alleged Foxconn development increased their project costs to $912 million — up $150 million from their 2017 estimate. While state and local leaders rushed to accommodate Foxconn’s rising costs, their enthusiasm was notably absent when it came to investing in our roads and schools.  

Foxconn’s Wisconsin commitment is uncertain. But should we have expected anything less? Foxconn has a history of grand promises followed by local disappointment. In 2011, Foxconn promised a $12 billion investment and 100,000 jobs within six years in Brazil.

Six years later, Brazilian officials described the area as “totally abandoned.” In Pennsylvania, Foxconn announced a plant that never ended up being built. 

Shortly after I was elected to the Wisconsin State Senate, I sought to share information about the Foxconn deal to my constituents through a series of town hall events. We discussed Foxconn’s history, the project’s cost and environmental impact and the special legal privileges given to Foxconn under the proposal passed in a special legislative session. 

During one of these town halls, a veteran lamented that it is unfair that he must jump through many hoops and combat stigma to receive his $38 a month in food assistance while a foreign corporation can receive vast sums of “corporate welfare” and special treatment. It is hard to disagree.

One thing is for sure: Where we spend — or do not spend — our money says a lot about our priorities. Wisconsin needs rural broadband infrastructure, quality schools and safe roads. Every dollar spent on this changing deal is a dollar that is not available for Wisconsin priorities.

Patty Schachtner represents District 10 in the Wisconsin State Senate as a Democrat. She was elected during a special election in January 2018.