Activities in the capitol over the past two weeks continued to center around Foxconn. The Assembly pushed the incentive package through committee and a floor vote this week. After introducing the Senate version last week and referring it to the Joint Finance Committee (JFC), the Senate has yet to take any action on the bill.
Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) has softened his stance on passing the budget first and has suggested a potential JFC hearing on Foxconn next week. Several senators and the governor have said they expect to pass both Foxconn legislation and the budget simultaneously by the end of the month. Meanwhile, JFC co-chair Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) said the legislature is in position to pass a budget by mid-September. Meanwhile, the legislature faces growing pressure from schools that are starting fall classes with uncertain state funding. The Department of Public Instruction sent a letter to JFC on Thursday outlining implications of the delayed budget on state school finance calculations, with the first deadline as soon as August 31. The next two weeks are sure to be busy for the legislature as they hurry to send both the Foxconn and budget bills to the governor as soon as possible.
Jobs & Economy Executive Session
The Assembly Committee on Jobs and the Economy met on Monday, August 14 in executive session to vote on the substitute amendment to the Foxconn bill authored by Assembly Republicans. The amendment made several changes that incorporated feedback from the August 3 hearing and several concerns outlined by Democrats. The changes include a $20 million worker training program, a requirement that WEDC put language in the final contract promoting Wisconsin workers when practically possible, a requirement that wetland mitigation be in the same watershed, or as close as possible to the disrupted site, and a stipulation that Foxconn receive tax credits only for jobs created with a minimum salary of $30,000 per year.
While Democrats at the hearing acknowledged Neylon’s efforts to address their concerns, all five Democrats on the committee voted against recommendation for passage of the amended bill, saying the changes do not go far enough to address the “risks” of investing in Foxconn. Instead, Democrats offered 23 of their own amendments, including provisions that would create a minimum wage for jobs that are eligible for tax credits, create further restrictions on the amount of out-of-state workers Foxconn could hire, protect collective bargaining rights for Foxconn employees, create a regional transit authority, and create further environmental protections. All 23 amendments failed 8-5 on party line votes.
Assembly Floor Vote
The Assembly met in Special Session on Thursday to take up the substitute amendment to SSAB 1. At the beginning of the seven-hour long session, Democrats moved to send the bill to JFC, arguing that the legislature needed more information on the deal before considering passage. The motion failed, along with several other Democratic amendments that incorporated provisions similar to the amendments proposed in committee hearing, including requirements for hiring Wisconsin workers, environmental protections and the regional transit authority.
Debate on the substitute amendment began around 2:00 p.m. and lasted 4.5 hours. Democrats expressed their concerns about what they say are risks of the Foxconn deal: giving jobs to out-of-state workers, protecting the environment, and investing in a foreign corporation rather than government programs. Notably, Rep. Cory Mason (R-Racine) and Rep. Tod Ohnstad (D-Kenosha), both of whom represent districts where Foxconn is likely to build, spoke in favor of the bill, arguing that even if the corporation does not fully deliver on its promises, the prospect of even some of the promised jobs coming to southeast Wisconsin would outweigh the risks. Republicans echoed these comments, citing the potential benefits of the deal to the entire state and what they said is an enormous opportunity for the Wisconsin economy.
The bill passed the Assembly 59-30, largely along party lines. Republican Reps. Adam Jarchow (R-Balsam Lake) and Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville) voted no on the bill, while Democrats Majority Leader Peter Barca (R-Kenosha), Rep. Mason, and Rep. Ohnstad voted yes.