Almost everywhere I go, people ask me about the massive tax breaks the governor gave Foxconn in southeast Wisconsin.
The first thing I say is that these aren't "tax breaks" — companies like Foxconn don't pay the Wisconsin taxes their workers and other businesses have to because of a credit that applies to manufacturers. The $3 billion — with a "B" — we all hear about is not a tax break — it's a direct cash payment to this foreign corporation. It's cash taken directly from working Wisconsin taxpayers and sent overseas in the single-largest state handout to a foreign corporation in American history.
And almost everyone I talk to can't believe it at first. But it's true.
For the next eight state budgets, the first draw on Wisconsin workers' paychecks will be a payout to Foxconn. The deal the governor cut puts the next generation of northern Wisconsinites on the hook for a handout that won't return taxpayers' investment for — at best — 25 years.
Wisconsin is better than this. Neighboring states considered and offered economic incentive packages, but none came anywhere near the Wisconsin GOP's outrageous offer to Foxconn. Given Foxconn's record of keeping — or not keeping its promises — reasonable people would say be cautious. That's not how the governor and the majority of my Republican colleagues reacted. Instead, it seems they asked Foxconn how high they wanted us to jump? And now taxpayers are on the hook for $3 billion.
Of that, $1.35 billion will go out the door to Foxconn simply if they invest in southeast Wisconsin on technology, structures or automation — with no guarantee of jobs or wages. Under the plan that was rushed through the legislature last week, Wisconsin's primary export from this Foxconn deal could be your tax dollars.
Only after they settled the Foxconn deal did the Republicans in the state Senate turn to the long-overdue state budget.
The budget we're dealing with today fails Wisconsin, and I'll have more to say about that in the weeks ahead. Wisconsin workers and taxpayers will be forced by the GOP's giveaway to play second fiddle to Foxconn for our next four state budgets, at least.
For example, one item in the budget I was forced to vote on cuts wages for many of people who do the hardest work in our state — largely construction workers, road builders and truck drivers. After the GOP voted for, every penny of "savings" they squeeze out of Wisconsin workers' wages will turn directly into a payout to Foxconn.
That's why I'm disappointed when my Republican colleagues talk about an "increase" to school aids in this budget. Despite what they claim, it's not the largest increase in school funding. The $600 million more for 850,000 Wisconsin children is not bad — but it pales in comparison to what they're giving Foxconn. Foxconn gets $469 million of your taxes in the next budget, $600 million in the budget after that, $623 million in the budget after that and $431 million in the budget after that.
It certainly wasn't pride I felt when I listened to Wisconsin politicians beg for the chance to hand $3 billion of your hard-earned dollars to one foreign conglomerate. It did not inspire confidence to learn that the formal offer was scribbled on a sheet of paper with previous offers crossed out until they ran up to $3 billion.
Before we can consider northern Wisconsin roads in this or future budgets, before we can consider northern Wisconsin schools in the future, Wisconsin taxpayers will have to pay up on the Foxconn deal.
For 15 straight years, the first commitment of your hard-earned dollars will be Foxconn. Twenty years after that — if Wisconsin workers get any jobs at a Foxconn plant and pay the taxes Foxconn won't have to — the state might start to see a benefit. And that's the best-case scenario.
There's a reason nobody has ever agreed to a giveaway of this size before. Wisconsin is better than this. Our political leaders should have been.
Janet Bewley, D-Delta, represents the 25th District in the Wisconsin Senate.