Foxconn deal adds to political divides

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WHILE the nation and Washington officials fight over immigration and how to treat the children of border-crossing immigrants, $4.5 billion in state and local tax breaks and other incentives for Foxconn's proposed Racine County manufacturing campus divides Wisconsin.

Examples:

• Trying to win a third term on Nov. 6, Republican Gov. Scott Walker has doubled down on Foxconn as a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Wisconsin to be the U.S. epicenter of high-tech production.

Last week's Foxconn groundbreaking ceremony also welded Walker's political future to controversial President Donald Trump, who also picked up a ceremonial shovel.

Foxconn will help Wisconsin "win the 21st Century," Walker said. It will return "$18 for every $1 in tax incentives - $18 to $1 sounds like a pretty good return on the taxpayer's dollar."

Trump said Foxconn's Wisconsin investment is on "a magnitude like nobody has ever seen" and called Walker an "unbelievably talented guy" who made it happen.

Walker returned the praise, telling Trump: "Foxconn would not be in America if not for you."

• THE Foxconn bet divides Wisconsin residents. Marquette University Law School's June poll found that 46% of those surveyed said the state is paying more than the Foxconn plant will bring to the state's economy, 40% percent think the bet will pay off, and 13% don't know. The poll's margin of error was 4%.

Foxconn also has the potential to split Milwaukee-area residents and Cheeseheads elsewhere. Marquette's survey found 56% of registered voters statewide believe the Foxconn plant will "substantially improve" metropolitan Milwaukee's economy; 33% said it won't. Most doubt that it will help their local businesses, however.

• Republican legislators, and GOP candidates for the Legislature, unanimously back the incentive package.

"This is an entire industry coming to America, coming to the free world," GOP Rep. Dale Kooyenga, of Brookfield, who is running for the state Senate, said in a WisconsinEye campaign interview.

"That industry is one that is going to involve other industries - automotive, health care," Kooyenga added. "Wisconsin is now on the forefront of that new technology. Individuals who made the Foxconn decision could have put their money anywhere in the world."

• BUT some rank-and-file Republicans have doubts, MU Pollster Charles Franklin said last week:

"Among those Republicans who also approve of the job Walker is doing as governor, only 69% think the state will get its money's worth from the Foxconn deal, 16% say it isn't worth it and 15% say they don't know.

"That is a solid majority, but not the 90% support among Republicans who approve the Governor's job performance we might see on other issues."

• Democratic legislators, party leaders and the party's candidates for the Legislature hope the Foxconn deal ends Walker's run as governor. They want Foxconn and Walker's Act 10 changes in 2011, which decimated public employee unions, to be the bookends on his political tombstone.

"A big part of the state was not represented" in the Foxconn deal, said Democratic state Senate candidate Richard Postlewaite, of Eau Claire, a political science instructor and former Teamsters and WEAC official.

"We were just simply told, 'This is what is going to happen," Postlewaite added. "For the most part, I don't see it benefitting a large portion of the state."

All eight Democrats running for governor are critical of Foxconn incentives.

• RACINE-area elected officials are treading very, very carefully, given Foxconn's potential upsides ($10 billion in investments and 13,000 jobs) and downsides (weaker environmental standards, diversion of Lake Michigan water and the unpopular process of acquiring "blighted" land for the project).

One example of careful Foxconn politicalspeak:

"While the Foxconn deal was not the one I wanted, we don't have the luxury of letting this opportunity pass us by," said Democratic Rep. Greta Neubauer, of Racine, elected in a special January election.

"We need commitments to local and diverse hiring, regional public transit, and strong environmental protection efforts from our new neighbor," Neubauer added.

The backlash has "totally surprised" top Foxconn executive Louis Woo.

"I thought we were doing the good things," Woo told a WISN-TV interviewer. He thought massive investments transforming southeast Wisconsin's economy would be "welcomed by everybody."

If one of the Democrats who oppose the Foxconn aid package is elected governor Nov. 6, Woo added, '"I would still continue to focus on what we can do. We will continue on with the project."'

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Contact him at stevenscotwalters@gmail.com

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