Bending Over Backwards for Bad Company: Wisconsin Republicans Celebrate the Foxconn Deal

In 2010, there were eight suicides at Foxconn’s plant in Shenzhen, China, where the company makes electronic products for Dell, Apple, and HP. Two more workers injured themselves seriously in suicide attempts at plant, where most employees were housed in on-site dormitories and worked 16-hour shifts. Due to an international outcry and changes demanded by American corporations doing business with Foxconn, shifts were shortened – to 12 hours per day – and hourly wages raised to $1.85.

This week, Wisconsinites have been treated to a brazen spectacle on behalf of Foxconn, a company billed as the number 1 supplier of contract electronics in the world. Its chairman, Terry Gou, traveled to the state for a shindig at the art museum with Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, and Scott Walker. Walker and Gou posed with the familiar deep blue Wisconsin State flag, which prominently features the year 1848 – the year Wisconsin Republicans are trying to take us back to in terms of rolled back environmental and worker protections and income taxes on millionaires and billionaires.

The proposed factory in southeastern Wisconsin – a reported $10 billion investment on Foxconn’s part – would build LCD displays and employ anywhere from 3,000 to 13,000 workers, depending on who is bandying about the numbers at any given moment.

The White House claimed Trump was instrumental in bringing the deal to Wisconsin. “I’d see Terry and say ‘You’ve got to give us one of these massive places,’” Trump bragged.

But the real giving will be done by Wisconsin’s middle-class tax payers. And the suffering will be done, not just by Wisconsin’s workers, but also by its wildlife.

State Senator Kathleen Vinehout (D-31st District), who wants to challenge Walker in 2018’s gubernatorial race, has been traveling the state talking to voters at town hall meetings about the Republican governor’s proposed 2017-2019 budget, which has now taken a back seat in the legislature to the Foxconn proposal that was hastily cobbled into a bill.

Vinehout’s budget dog-and-pony show points out that corporations already pay only a tiny sliver of all tax revenues in the state – 6% compared with 52% from personal income taxes.

In a memo on the Foxconn deal Vinehout sent out on August 3, she discussed the implications of the “$3 billion in tax credits and other subsidies over 15 years” Wisconsin has promised to the Taiwanese company. According to Vinehout, these credits are “refundable,” which means that even if Foxconn “owes nothing in taxes” (and in this state, that’s not hard to imagine), “they will still get a check from the taxpayers of Wisconsin for the amount of the tax credits.”
Sounds like a sweet deal.

But there’s more. Foxconn, Vinehout says, “will pay nothing in sales tax for building materials, supplies, equipment and services.”

Along with all the other delights of this bill comes a provision for Governor Walker to accomplish his dream of borrowing money for state freeway construction – because, after all, Foxconn will need shiny new highways between here and northern Illinois.
And more delightful still, as far as Wisconsin Republicans are concerned, is the discussion about rolling back environmental protections that has already begun.
Staush Gruszynski, Political Director of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters writes that the bill will allow Foxconn to “fill in wetlands, build on lakebeds, and even reroute streams” all without an environmental analysis, which the company will be allowed to bypass. This, says Gruszynski, is “the Governor’s way of giving Foxconn a free pass to disregard some of our state’s most important land and water protections.”

And at least one Wisconsin Republican is eager to see that the rollback of wetlands protections doesn’t stop with Foxconn. During discussion of the Foxconn proposal, Assemblyman Adam Jarchow (R-Balsam Lake) jumped in to say that the state “should take a fresh look” at wetlands protections across the board, according to the Journal Sentinel’s August 2 story.

Pennsylvania is still waiting for its proposed Foxconn plant. It’s been almost four years since the company proposed to build a plant outside Harrisburg, and no earth has been moved.

But Foxconn can do damage without ever coming to Wisconsin, if local Republicans can manage to use this as an excuse to drain our wetlands and skip the environmental analysis for any corporate giant that wants to set up shop here.

In the meantime, Wisconsin is still last in the Midwest for entrepreneurship and new job creation, and, according to Vinehout, has the 18th lowest wages in the nation.

No wonder Scott Walker and his cronies choose to play up the good publicity where they can.

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