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A town hall meeting hosted by Democratic state legislators to discuss Wisconsin’s controversial $3 billion Foxconn deal had been going on for more than an hour Tuesday when Isabel Bauer of Onalaska asked the question that drew applause from the audience.

“Why are we spending so much money, giving this company so much money, on something that could fall through?” Bauer asked. “Really, why aren’t they paying for a lot of this if they want to be here so badly?”

La Crosse County’s state representatives Sen. Jennifer Shilling, Rep. Jill Billings and Rep. Steve Doyle were joined by Assembly Minority Leader Rep. Gordon Hintz of Oshkosh as they hosted the event, meant to answer constituents’ questions and learn more about what Wisconsin residents want from Foxconn Technology Group, which started construction in June on a new factory in Mount Pleasant, Wis.

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Steve Doyle mug

Doyle

“Those are exactly the questions we asked, and those are exactly the questions that people across the state should continue to ask,” Doyle said.

The legislators called for more transparency in the deal, which was signed last November by Gov. Scott Walker after it passed through the Wisconsin Legislature. In the contract, Wisconsin offered $3 billion in financial incentives in exchange for the tech company building a $9 billion facility to manufacture large LCD screens. Since the deal was approved, Mount Pleasant and Racine County has offered Foxconn a $764 million incentive package and the state has agreed to spend $134 million to improve state highways and local roads in the area around the Foxconn site.

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Jennifer Shilling

Shilling

Environmental and financial concerns dominated the discussion, with people like Fran Lee-Edwards expressing frustration with the impact on Wisconsin’s wetlands. Under the terms of the agreement, the state waived the requirement for an environmental impact statement.

Lee-Edwards pointed to the state’s past investment and pride in its natural resources, adding that if Wisconsin’s wetlands are destroyed, they can’t be fixed.

“This is a state that we made beautiful, and we take pride in our recreation and tourism. … We don’t get this back,” she said.

Others were concerned that with the contract signed, there was nothing residents could do to prevent damage to the state’s environment or finances from the deal; however, the legislators argued that there were still options moving forward to make the best of the situation.

“Initial harm is being done, but it doesn’t have to be the same amount of harm over the next 20 years, if that makes sense,” Shilling said.

Shilling encouraged people to vote, but said there is some grey area when it comes to a complex deal like the one with Foxconn.

“We don’t have clear answers of what this could look like six months from now if we have a different administration, or if we have the same administration and different leadership, a different majority party,” she said.

Doyle said the state legislators have a responsibility to make the best of the deal. While he raised concerns about Foxconn’s investment in automation and whether the state would ever see a return on its investment, he also said, “We can’t just say this sucks and throw our hands up.”

Partnering with the University of Wisconsin system and the state’s technical schools to expand job training, especially for people who are homeless, people convicted of a crime and for veterans, is one avenue he suggested.

“Let’s get as many jobs as we can, high-paid, well-trained jobs, so that if Foxconn replaces these people with robots, they have a skillset where they can go over to Company XYZ. That’s how we make the best out of it,” Doyle added.

Doyle added that the state will need to ensure there are auditors and inspectors, making sure the company meets its job goals or is penalized according to the terms of the contract should it fall short of the 13,000 new-job commitment.

“To minimize the downside, we have to be vigilant,” Doyle said.

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City government reporter

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.

(16) comments

Redwall

"Lee-Edwards pointed to the state’s past investment and pride in its natural resources, adding that if Wisconsin’s wetlands are destroyed, they can’t be fixed."

Not quite.

From the Madison Times: "...Foxconn will be required to pay into a program designed to create up to three new wetland acres for each one that is eliminated."

Under the deal, Foxconn can develop 26 acres that contain some existing wetlands and must fund three times that much acreage in new wetlands.

Cassandra2

They'll do it by declaring every pothole in every road to be a replacement wetland. LOL!

Redwall

“This is an historic moment, not only for the University of Wisconsin and for Foxconn, but I hope for the entire state of Wisconsin,” Blank said. “We’re two very different institutions, but we share a deep commitment to pushing the boundaries of knowledge.”

Quote from UW Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank on announcing Foxconn's $100 million matching donation to UWM. The largest donation ever received by UW.

The Fibune author must not have bothered to educate herself on the subject she was writing about; so much easier to just print what the Dems give her.

johnnybragatti

Never let truth diminish you, Trump and Walker are both patho-liars.
All of a sudden they"re gonna tell the truth?
Not on your life ...,
or mine.

martian2

Ever wonder why no other state tried to lure foxconn? Ever wonder why our roads don't have adequate funding? Ever wonder where many of those employees for foxconn are going to come from.? Ever wonder how long it will take for the state(tax payers) will break even on this foxconn deal? Ever wonder why our natural resources are being exploited with few safe guards? Politicians look for short term benefits without thinking of the long term impact for future generations. Too many voters are the same way.

Redwall

Fromo PBS Newshour July 2017:

"LANSING, Mich. — Taiwanese electronics maker Foxconn’s plan to build a display panel factory in the U.S. has sparked a flurry of lobbying by states vying to land what some economic development officials say is a once-in-a-generation prize."

The states included Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Texas and Wisconsin.

Educate yourself much? Avid Fibune reader, no doubt.

martian2

Each job created by foxconn can cost the state tax payers $230,700 dollars. Its no wonder other states quit trying to lure foxconn. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/07/27/foxconn-deal-would-cost-wisconsin-230700-per-worker/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.9453e7d14b5c

ElPresidente

The funny part is that "con" is in the companies name and no one could see it.

Redwall

The deal is done, why the hysterics? The Democrat pity-pout meeting of the week sponsored by the Fibune. Whatsa matter, was Burns Park already booked?

The Foxconn deal is done.

By the way, the dopey reporter, while reciting myriad numbers directly from the Dems press release, somehow forgot to mention the $100 million donation Foxconn has pledged to UW.

Jobaba

UW-L has nothing to do with this article. The "gift" only looks like cheap theatrics to purchase good will after ripping off the state for 3 billion. Focus on the article and what really happened instead of blind allegiance to Scoot.

Redwall

Correct, the donation is to fund improvements at UW MADISON. That would be the campus in Dane County, near the capital, you know, the building with the big dome at the top. Part of the new research center will also be in Racine.

Cassandra2

Where is that money coming from, Redwall? It's simply an accounting trick while a foreign company loots our treasury.

Redwall

Its coming from Foxconn. They already have their deal with the State and were under no obligation to give a dime to UW.

Cassandra2

"Its coming from Foxconn. " That would be the same foreign company that is getting millions of taxpayer dollars. As I said, it's an accounting trick and a PR stunt. They're taking taxpayer dollars by the boatload and giving back a tiny portion while making a big show about how generous they are. You're getting ripped off but you refuse to see it.

restofstory

Turn down jobs. Pathetic democratic positions. Shilling is a joke.

Jobaba

Nobody wants to turn down jobs, rather nobody wants to buy jobs with state tax dollars at an exorbitant price.

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