ONALASKA — Tom Krajewski of Onalaska was wary Monday of the proposed deal to bring a technology plant to Wisconsin at the price of $3 billion.

“Money is like manure. If you pile it in one place, it’s not going to do any good. You’ve got to spread it around,” said Krajewski, a former staff member at Wisconsin Community Development Finance Authority 30 years ago.

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FILE -- Jill Billings mugshot

Billings

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Jennifer Shilling

Shilling

Krajewski was one of dozens of La Crosse County residents who raised concerns ranging from the environment to the state budget to return on investment Monday in response to the Foxconn Technology Group deal being considered by the Wisconsin Legislature. About 70 people packed into the meeting room in Onalaska Public Library during a listening session organized by state Sen. Jennifer Shilling and Rep. Jill Billings to express disapproval of the deal, announced in July by Gov. Scott Walker.

If the deal is approved, the Taiwanese firm’s display screen plant would be built in southeastern Wisconsin, with proponents saying it could bring 3,000 to 13,000 jobs to the state.

“I love the jobs, if we’re going to get them, but it’s kind of a rosy scenario,” Krajewski said.

Barbara Frank, La Crosse, agreed that jobs are critical, but urged legislators to look this gift horse in the mouth, particularly after a Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau Report estimated that it would take the state 25 years to recoup the $2.85 billion in proposed cash payments to Foxconn.

“This just isn’t a good investment,” she said. “Frankly, as a private investor, something that would take 25 years to get a return on, forget it.”

Dennis King, Onalaska, opened the discussion by asking a question that was later echoed throughout the room.

“It’s never been explained by Foxconn wants to come here,” King said. “I assume it’s the $3 billion.”

However, King’s main concern was the portion of the deal to exempt the plant’s developers from state environmental requirements.

“What kind of pollution are they going to create?” King asked.

With a large amount of water used in the process, King questioned what effects water run-off would have on sewage and the water supply in the area.

“Wisconsin is pristine. Our water is good. I’m not for it,” King said.

Shilling clarified that the exemption would not change state law. It would exempt Foxconn from statutory requirements, such as environmental impact statements. Once it is up and running, it would need to follow environmental regulations.

“They want to save money at our expense,” King said.

People also raised questions of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources enforcement, asking whether it would adequately hold Foxconn accountable.

Jeff Berger, Holmen, asked whether Foxconn offered the kinds of jobs Wisconsin wants, citing poor conditions in overseas factories.

“This company does not have a good track record,” he said.

He urged people to contact Wisconsin legislators and tell them to turn down the deal.

“We don’t want this factory in here,” Berger said.

The deal will go before the state Assembly this week.

“By Thursday, I have to vote,” Billings said, despite her unanswered questions.

Billings added that the deal would likely pass the Assembly, but its future is less certain in the Senate.

Shilling criticized Walker and state Republicans for rushing the bill through the Assembly.

“As the deal was unveiled, it was lacking on details,” Shilling said. “We in the legislature have been asking for details, been asking for analysis, have been asking for briefings from the Department of Administration and from (the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation).”

Shilling said it was important to know whether this was a deal the state could afford before moving forward.

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Jourdan Vian is a reporter and columnist covering local government and city issues for the La Crosse Tribune. You can contact her at 608-791-8218.

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