It’s one thing to be campaigning for office and make outlandish pledges that you secretly know neither you nor anybody else will be able to fulfill.
(Remember how Ted Cruz wanted to move us back to the gold standard? Need we even mention Mexico paying for a border wall?)
It’s an entirely different thing to flesh out your plans in a way that makes it appear that you actually mean business. Matt Flynn, a former chairman of the state Democratic party and one of 10 Democrats seeking their party’s nomination in the governor’s race, waded into precarious waters this week with the release of a legal plan that he says he will act on if elected to “kill the deal” to bring Foxconn to southeast Wisconsin.
It’s of course no secret that the public has some serious doubts about the state’s Foxconn plans. In a Marquette Law School opinion poll released in March, nearly half the respondents said they don’t think the $10 billion manufacturing campus Foxconn is building in Mount Pleasant will be worth its cost to taxpayers. A full two thirds said they don’t think it will benefit local employers.
We’ve generally been supportive of the Foxconn project. But we’re also as willing as anyone to acknowledge there are many good reasons to question the state’s offer of billions of dollars’ worth of incentives.
Unfortunately for Flynn and his fellow critics, the time to ask the biggest question of all – whether the state should have entered into the deal in the first place – has come and gone. If the deal is so bad, then the time to kill it was before construction had started. It’s most definitely not now, when hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of work is already underway.
True, some of this would be taking place even if Foxconn weren’t coming. But much of it, namely road projects near the company’s site in Mount Pleasant, is being done expressly to accommodate traffic to and from the plant.
If the Foxconn work were halted now, the state would be home to some of the finest roads to nowhere in the entire country. And then there are the people who have had to leave their homes and farms to make room for these projects. What would they say if they learned their ancestral homes had been paved over for naught?
But why make such a fuss over a plan that – for the moment at least – amounts to nothing more than words? Politicians, after all, are notorious for making promises on the campaign trail that they have no actual intention of keeping. Surely Flynn and the other Democrats who are criticizing the Foxconn deal are just doing whatever they can to distinguish themselves in a crowded field.
But we in Wisconsin know there is a real danger here. It was only eight years ago that another candidate running for governor – none other than Scott Walker – made it a campaign pledge to refuse federal money for a proposed high-speed rail line between Madison and Milwaukee, even though the DOT had already begun work on the project.
Everyone can remember the deplorable results. Wisconsin saw the $810 million it was to get from federal government instead sent to other states. Next came the $50 million settlement the state had to pay to extricate itself from a lawsuit brought by the company hired to make trains for the new line.
Killing the Foxconn deal would almost certainly give rise to another crop of lawsuits. The state then would not only have wasted millions on suddenly unnecessary road projects; it would also find itself on the hook for what would almost certainly be millions of dollars’ worth of legal costs. And that’s not even counting the loss of 10,000 construction jobs and as many as 13,000 jobs at the plant itself.
Democrats were foremost among the critics of Walker’s pledge to not accept federal money for a high-speed line between Milwaukee and Madison. They should think back to that example the next time they’re considering threatening to call off the Foxconn deal.
It shows that politicians’ words can’t always be dismissed as “empty rhetoric”; sometimes what’s said on the campaign trail does have consequences.
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