On August 2, Senator Janet Bewley and I hosted a pair of listening sessions in Rice Lake and Amery to talk about the $4.5 billion taxpayer incentive package to Foxconn, a Taiwanese-based electronics manufacturing company.

The original Foxconn deal has changed since it was first presented to the legislature. The initial cost of the deal increased from around $3 billion to $4.5 billion in the span of months. The state also shifted $90 million from state highway projects to pay for Foxconn-related road work. Foxconn itself has changed its plans to produce smaller display panels, which means the facility can be smaller and built cheaper.

The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates that under the best case scenario taxpayers would not break even until 2043, or one full generation.

During the town halls, audience members asked about Foxconn’s exemptions from key environmental safety measures. For instance, Foxconn does not have to submit an environmental impact study. The company also received exemptions from certain wetland and navigable waterway regulations and they have been approved to withdraw seven million gallons of water per day from Lake Michigan by the Department of Natural Resources.

One Rice Lake audience member, a veteran, lamented that it is unfair that he has to jump through many hoops and combat stigma to receive his $38 a month in FoodShare assistance while a foreign corporation can receive vast sums of “corporate welfare” and special treatment.

Other audience members questioned Foxconn’s history of promised investments that never materialized and whether taxpayers are protected if Foxconn falls short. In 2013, Foxconn opened a small office in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and pledged to build a $30 million factory employing 500 jobs. The plant was never built.

In 2011, Foxconn promised a $12 billion investment and 100,000 jobs within six years in Brazil. The company hired 2,800 people and in 2017, local officials stated the area where the plant is supposed to be was “totally abandoned.”

I was excited to see that more than 80 people took the time to attend the listening sessions and share their thoughts. Where we spend – or do not spend – our money says a lot about our priorities. When I see the need for more broadband investment and more opportunities for our students, I know we could have done a lot of good with even a  small fraction of what Foxconn is getting.