Gov. Scott Walker had already reached desperate levels of generosity to entice a big electronics company to locate in Wisconsin. Last summer, the governor agreed to an eye-popping $3 billion in state subsidies to secure the arrival of Foxconn, a global manufacturer of flat-panel display screens. That amounts to an annual state subsidy (that is, taxpayer money) of $15,000 to $19,000 per promised job — more than five times the typical subsidy, according to job development specialists.
But wait, there’s more, as TV hucksters say: To make it easier for this Taiwanese company to build what is promised as one of the largest economic development projects in United States history — a $10 billion operation supposedly three times as large as the Pentagon — the company will be exempt from the state environmental requirements that other companies have to follow. This means Foxconn can fill in wetlands as it pleases and reroute streams or even create new ones with impunity. The business, which uses potentially polluting chemicals in its manufacturing, will not be required to submit an environmental impact statement to the state, according to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
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Mr. Walker, normally a fiscal hawk who hasn’t hesitated to take on public employee contracts and the state university budget, is claiming a “transformational” victory for his state in order “to play in the big leagues.” The contract grew out of a high-bidding competition with other states, encouraged by the Trump White House with the blessing of the House speaker, Paul Ryan, whose district includes Foxconn’s planned site.
For all the thousands of promised jobs and the optimism sounding from the Walker statehouse, critics are noting that Foxconn has come up short in the past with similarly grandiose plans, including a $12 billon investment in Brazil, a $5 billion operation in India and a $30 million plant in Pennsylvania. Experts on both the political left and right say experience shows that the promised rewards are not justified by the cost of extraordinary tax breaks that, if extended to other employers, could bankrupt the state.
Since being elected in 2010, Governor Walker, along with fellow Republicans, has demonized environmental regulations as antibusiness job killers, even though evidence shows that modern corporations profit from environmental advances. State enforcement of regulations has been reined in, and budgets have been cut. Federal environmental laws still have a role to play, but unfortunately enforcement is in the obstructionist hands of the Trump administration.
The Foxconn project amounts to a low-road scheme to advance big business by scapegoating environmental laws. Jay Gould and the robber barons would have envied the way Foxconn could benefit from Governor Walker’s reckless giveaway of tax subsidies and hard-won protections of the environment.