Fitzgerald, Vos disagree over Foxconn bill process

Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

The Legislature’s top Republicans disagreed Tuesday on how to move forward with an incentive package for Foxconn, while Walker said he’s open to small changes to the legislation.

Among the issues: how quickly to move the bill setting up $3 billion in incentives for the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer; if the Foxconn bill should be the priority over the overdue state budget; and whether the legislation should go to the Joint Finance Committee.

Walker said he’s open to small changes to the legislation, which was formally introduced Tuesday. Still, he said there’s “plenty of time” for the public to weigh in on the Foxconn deal, which will be up for a public hearing in the Assembly on Thursday with a committee vote expected next week.

Walker told reporters after talking to the Senate GOP caucus that Dems under former Gov. Jim Doyle “pushed through the biggest tax increase in the history of the state” in under two days without a public hearing.

“I think two to three weeks is a pretty good amount of time,” he said.

Walker said while there could be “a few tweaks here or there” to the special session bill, he doesn’t expect major changes. The big required item, he said, is letting the state “pay for growth” and let Foxconn get $3 billion in incentives as it meets certain targets.

“I think that’s the key,” he said. “The other components are all things we can certainly work with [lawmakers] on. That’s really what we heard here today, were just questions more than anything.”

Dems accused Republicans of rushing through a $3 billion incentive package that could push aside work on the budget, now about a month overdue.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling called the Foxconn bill a “shiny object” that’s distracting Republicans from working on the budget. She called the Assembly timeline for the bill, which includes a possible floor vote in mid-August, “overly ambitious.” She also questioned why some Republicans want to rush on the bill, noting Foxconn has not lived up to promises made in other states.

The La Crosse Dem declined to offer an acceptable timeline to vote on the bill other than saying a week to 10 days of deliberations is not enough.

“We’ve seen the track record of this company, and we just want to make sure that communities are protected, taxpayers are protected and makes sure we’re not giving away the state of Wisconsin to a Taiwanese company,” Shilling said.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said it’s “more important” to get the state budget done, while Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he thinks the Foxconn bill should be the priority.

Vos added it would be “ideal” if the budget and Foxconn bills could progress concurrently, but Fitzgerald showed no interest in that approach.

“We’re still focused on: Let’s get the state budget done. Let’s get K-12 their funding numbers. Let’s make sure that everyone knows that we’ve got this under control before we try and jump in with both feet on Foxconn,” Fitzgerald said.

The Juneau Republican said Walker “was great” in responding to questions from GOP senators in Tuesday’s caucus.

But he said his caucus wants to wait for a full analysis from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau to answer questions that members have. That includes whether any incentives might be paid out this year if construction on the Foxconn facility kicks off. Another question, he said, is how the $3 billion in incentives would spread out throughout the years.

He said he disagreed with Vos’ approach to refer the bill to the Assembly’s Jobs and the Economy Committee instead of placing that bill directly in the Joint Finance Committee, which oversees budget issues. Vos said the bill could still end up at JFC, but made no commitment to send it there.

Fitzgerald said he talked to Sen. Dan Feyen, R-Fond du Lac, who chairs a similar committee in the Senate, about why he thinks why JFC is the “appropriate place for this to be.” The JFC, he said, should hold a public hearing on the bill and an executive session.

Fitzgerald said a JFC meeting isn’t likely until the week of Aug. 21, when it looks the committee might have the “three days they probably need to wrap up the state budget.”

“If they want to also have a public hearing on Foxconn that day … I think I’m open to that, but, you know, it’s more important to get the state budget done,” he said.

Vos, meanwhile, said he’s looking forward to sitting down with the Senate again on the budget, but pointed out the Assembly has already accepted Walker’s latest offer on transportation, a key hurdle in negotiations.

That approach would take $203.5 million Walker had wanted to put toward income tax cuts and instead use the money for a cash investment in road projects. The guv also has proposed only doing additional bonding for transportation if the state received federal money to help cover the costs of borrowing.

With that discussion continuing, Vos said his caucus wants to make sure the Foxconn bill moves.

“For us, the biggest priority is making sure that we have Foxconn moving along because we know that the sooner we’re able to do our due diligence on the legislation, the sooner they’re able to choose a site and hopefully begin construction, start employing people and get money into the pockets of everyday Wisconsinites.”

The Rochester Republican also noted the Foxconn bill would have little impact on the 2017-19 state budget. There is a provision that would set aside $10 million for grants to local units of government to help with their costs, including infrastructure and public safety. The bill also calls for $252.4 million in general obligation supported borrowing for I-94 north-south, though that would be contingent on the state receiving federal aid. If that happened, the state’s payment on the bonds would be $2.9 million in the 2017-19 biennium.

He also held off committing his caucus to the Foxconn bill as drafted, saying Assembly Republicans only went through policy aspects of the bill and were awaiting a more in-depth look at the financial side.

“I don’t want to prejudge that the bill is perfect just like it’s drafted or that it requires changes,” Vos said. “That’s why we want to have a good, long, thorough process in the Jobs and Economy Committee to see what positive changes need to happen to make this bill the best it can be.”

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