By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — With an aggressive timeline to turn dirt as early as this year, Gov. Scott Walker on Friday called the Legislature into special session to consider a $3 billion incentive package to complete a deal with the global electronics giant Foxconn, which has plans to spend $10 billion on a new factory in southeast Wisconsin.
Walker ordered the Legislature to return to work as early as next week to consider the bill, which would have to be passed by the end of September under a deal he signed Thursday with Foxconn CEO Terry Gou.
The plant would be the first outside of Asia to produce liquid-crystal-display monitors used in computers, televisions and other areas. Walker calls it a once-a-generation opportunity to transform Wisconsin’s economy.
The factory, expected to open in 2020, would take up 20 million square feet on a campus spanning 1.56-square-miles in what Walker is calling the “Wisconn Valley.” It would initially employ 3,000 people, a number would eventually increase to 13,000 within six years under the deal.
An exact location has not been selected, but Foxconn is looking at sites in Racine and Kenosha counties.
Walker took to the air on Friday in a campaign-style airplane tour to make the case that the entire state would benefit from a plant three-times the size of the Pentagon that could employ 13,000 people.
“There’s a whole lot of people out there scrambling to try and come up with a reason not to like this,” Walker said in Eau Claire. “I can tell you, that’s fine but I think they can go suck lemons. The rest of us are going to cheer and figure out how we get this thing going forward.”
Walker’s tour also took him to La Crosse, Eau Claire and Wausau.
The bill Walker released for the Legislature to consider would speed up the permitting process by making exemptions to various required environmental permits and borrow $250 million to speed up the completion of the Interstate 94 expansion project that runs through the area where the plant is expected to be built. That interstate connects Milwaukee to Chicago.
The lobbyist Bill McCoshen, who helped negotiate economic development deals in Gov. Tommy Thompson’s administration, said bipartisan support would make the bill easier to pass.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin attended President Donald Trump’s White House announcement of the deal on Wednesday and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat who unsuccessfully tried twice to unseat Walker, praised the deal at a signing event on Thursday. Other Democratic lawmakers have expressed support.
Because Wisconsin already waives all taxes on manufacturing in the state, the incentives for Foxconn would be paid as cash up to $200 million a year rather than a credit against taxes owed. They would be pro-rated based on job creation and investments by Foxconn and could be recouped if jobs are lost.
“Gov. Walker has to some explaining to do to taxpayers in every corner of the state who will foot the bill for this deal on the Illinois border,” said Scot Ross, director of the liberal activist group One Wisconsin Now.
Steve Deller, a University of Wisconsin-Madison agricultural economist, said Friday that from what he knows of the deal, the state structured it in the most responsible way possible.
“It seems as though, if you’re going to do this, this is the way to go about it,” he said.
One of the harshest critics within the Legislature is Democratic state Sen. Dave Hansen, who represents Green Bay. He said moving quickly on the $3 billion incentive package would be “a serious case of legislative malpractice.”
Hansen expressed concerns that Foxconn would replace jobs at the plant with robots, as it has done at other factories.
“Before the governor and legislators mortgage the future of Wisconsin taxpayers, possibly for decades, they should think very carefully about the long-term needs of the state rather than their own re-election,” Hansen said.
A group of four Republican lawmakers from northeast Wisconsin pushed back against Hansen’s claims on Friday, calling them “beyond appalling” and “insane.”
“One need look no further than the shipyards and foundries in Marinette or the paper manufacturers scattered throughout the area to see that our area’s economy thrives on manufacturing,” said state Rep. John Nygren, co-chair of the Legislature’s budget committee.
Rep. David Steffen, of Green Bay, said there will be countless economic benefits for the state. Walker’s administration has estimated that there will be 22,000 other new jobs in construction and other associated fields thanks to the project.
“To think that someone would actively cheer against this type of economic growth is insane,” Steffen said.