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Wisconsin Assembly passes $3 billion Foxconn package

The logo of Foxconn, the trading name of Hon Hai Precision Industry, is seen on top of the company's headquarters in New Taipei City, Taiwan on March 29, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo

The Wisconsin Assembly on Thursday passed a $3 billion tax incentive package for tech manufacturer Foxconn.

Democrats and Republicans in the state Assembly clashed in an hours-long debate over the proposal, which was approved on a 59-30 vote Thursday evening.

Republicans, who hold a sizable majority in the Assembly, lauded the deal as a once-in-a-century opportunity for Wisconsin. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, compared the potential Foxconn factory site in southeastern Wisconsin to the 1989 movie, "Field of Dreams."

"It's a field of dreams just beyond the interstate, when you're driving down I-94 between Milwaukee and Chicago," Vos said. "It's a field of American dreams, it's careers that people can buy a home and send their kids to college."

The incentive package would provide Foxconn, a Taiwanese manufacturer of LCD screens for devices such as cell phones and TVs, $3 billion over 15 years. It also would allow Foxconn to bypass some state environmental regulations.

One prominent conservative group, Americans for Prosperity, opposes the deal, calling it a "taxpayer handout."

Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, spoke to that concern during debate. Kooyenga noted he doesn't support giving tax credits to companies that have no tax liability, but is willing to look beyond that to support the deal.

"There are some elements of this package that I'm not comfortable with," Kooyenga said. "I think sometimes we need to put ideology aside and look at the larger principles, and I think what we have before us ... is an extraordinary win."

Democrats proposed changes to the Foxconn package during debate, including adding incentives for the company to hire Wisconsin residents as its employees and Wisconsin companies as suppliers.

"We should put together a stronger deal," said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha.

The Democratic amendments were all voted down. Proposed Republican changes, including one that would provide $20 million for worker training in the next state budget, were approved.

During debate, Democrats argued the deal is too expensive and too risky for Wisconsin taxpayers.

An estimate released last week by the state's nonpartisan budget office found Wisconsin wouldn't break even on the deal until 2043, under the best circumstances. Projections also found state lawmakers would have to allocate more than $300 million per year for Foxconn incentive payments by the early 2020s.

Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, argued that lawmakers will have to make cuts in future state budgets in order to pay Foxconn.

"The opportunity costs of not investing in transportation, the future education of our children, and further incentivizing and supporting entrepreneurship in order to make cash payments to a foreign company worth billions is not worth it," Hintz said.

The proposal will now move to the state Senate.

Wisconsin Public Radio can be heard in the Twin Ports at 91.3 FM or online at wpr.org/news.

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