MADISON, WI — The Wisconsin Assembly sent a $3 billion incentive package for Taiwan-based Foxconn to Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday, signing off on a deal to lure the electronics giant to the state with the biggest subsidy to a foreign company in U.S. history.
The bill approved on a bipartisan 64-31 vote would make $2.85 billion available to Foxconn Technology Group in cash payments if it invests $10 billion and hires 13,000 workers. The Senate approved the proposal Tuesday.
The Republican governor was in South Korea on a trade mission at the time of the vote but pledged to sign the incentives package into law soon.
Walker, who negotiated the deal and is its lead champion, joined President Donald Trump in announcing Foxconn's plans to build in Wisconsin at a White House event in July, heralding it as a game-changer for American manufacturing.
Assembly Democrats, who didn't have the votes to stop it, slammed the proposal Thursday as being unfairly rigged to benefit Foxconn at the expense of taxpayers. But Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos defended it as an unprecedented opportunity for the state and country.
"What's rigged is the deal for the taxpayer, the workers, the families and ultimately those of us who have the good foresight to realize when a good deal is put in front of you," Vos said.
Foxconn is the largest contract manufacturer of electronics, best known for making iPhones, but with a long list of customers including Sony Corp., Dell Inc. and BlackBerry Ltd. The Wisconsin plant would construct liquid crystal display panels for televisions, computers and other uses.
The total incentive package is 10 times larger than anything ever approved in Wisconsin and would be the biggest state subsidy to a foreign company in the United States.
Foxconn issued an unsigned statement thanking Wisconsin, saying the incentives "will help us move forward with our plans to build the state-of-the-art advanced display manufacturing campus." It also pledged to make extensive use of the supply chain in the state to make Wisconsin "a center of worldwide high-tech manufacturing."
Critics have warned that there aren't enough protections for taxpayers to recover payments to Foxconn if it automates production and fires workers. They've also said more needs to be done to guarantee that Wisconsin workers and businesses get preference during the construction phase of the plant, and once it's up and running. Foxconn has said it hopes to open the plant in 2020 with 3,000 workers, but that the workforce could grow to 13,000.
The Assembly passed the bill with all Republicans and four Democrats in support. Two Republicans joined all other Democrats against.
Opponents objected to a provision that would allow the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take appeals of certain lawsuits related to Foxconn, skipping the appeals court. No other business in the state is provided such an expedited route to the Supreme Court.
Under the bill, the company would have 15 years to access the maximum $2.85 billion in cash payments tied to meeting the investment and hiring numbers. They can also receive $150 million in sales tax exemptions on construction equipment.
The Walker administration is charged with negotiating minimum hiring numbers to trigger the payments in the contract with Foxconn which has not been finalized. Foxconn has also not selected the exact location for the plant, but it has focused on property in Racine County in between Milwaukee and Chicago.
Democrats have also raised alarms about exemptions under the bill that waive requirements for Foxconn to first develop an environmental impact statement before constructing what could be a 20-million-square-foot (1.86-million-square-meter) campus. Foxconn would also be allowed to build in wetland and waterways.