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The Northwoods River News | Rhinelander, Wisconsin

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home : opinions : opinions August 16, 2017

8/3/2017 7:29:00 AM
Good enough for us

We're just a little torn by the recent news that tech manufacturing giant Foxconn is coming to Wisconsin - somewhere in the southeastern part of the state - to build a 20-million-square-foot plant for its products.

The company will invest $10 billion and employ 3,000 workers within three years and up to 13,000 within six years.

Of course, that's if the company follows through on its obligations. It hasn't elsewhere.

In return, the state will write Foxconn a check for $3 billion, provide incentives for TIF funds for infrastructure development, relax environmental regulations, among other things in a grab bag of goodies the state will drop at its doorstep.

A lot of those goodies are troubling. Actually, all of them are.

Still, there's just too much good news here to oppose the deal outright. President Donald Trump did the state a huge favor by helping direct the company to the Badger state, and goodness knows those jobs are badly needed in a region desperately trying to regain its traction in manufacturing.

This kind of happening is exactly - and we mean exactly - the reason Donald Trump carried Wisconsin in the presidential election.

But, of course, it's in Wisconsin itself that the trouble begins because, once you get into Wisconsin, there are only two kinds of politicians you're going to encounter - liberal Democrats who want to take taxpayer dollars to pay for government dependency programs, and crony capitalist Republicans who want to take taxpayer dollars and slather the pockets of their rich friends.

It's needless to ask, but we will: Does Foxconn really need three billion of our tax dollars to finance its planned operation and make a profit? The answer is, of course not. It's all about greed.

Yes, yes, we know, other states offered them even more and Foxconn would have ended up going to bed with the customer who was willing to pay reasonably, at least, even if that customer wasn't the most attractive (Illinois, Indiana, gag).

We get it, but it still doesn't make it right. If that $3 billion was used to cut business taxes and regulatory costs across the board and statewide, we venture to say it would boost more businesses and create more jobs than the Foxconn deal ever can, especially when you consider that company has a history of not meeting its job-creation goals.

So we're not saying lawmakers should oppose the deal, we're not saying our local lawmakers, Sen. Tom Tiffany and Rep. Rob Swearingen, should vote against Foxconn. We're saying they should then step up to the plate and demand equal treatment for the rest of the state.

After all, when Gov. Scott Walker says Foxconn, or Wisconn Valley, as we are now calling it, will be the next Silicon Valley, and will do for the state what Silicon Valley did for the San Francisco Bay Area, he really means it will do for southeastern Wisconsin what Silicon Valley did for the Bay Area.

The statistics may show an aggregate gain statewide, but this development isn't going to do anything for northern Wisconsin. The only impact it will have is that we taxpayers in the North will help pay that $3 billion incentive tab to Foxconn, while all the benefits stay downstate.

So, in exchange for their votes, Mr. Tiffany and Mr. Swearingen should ask, and ask publicly, what's in this for the North?

After all, the special bill the Legislature is considering for Foxconn includes a separate enterprise zoning provision that will funnel $10 million to Fiserve to keep them in Brookfield. So what about us?

We have a few ideas that would finally get the state to take northern Wisconsin seriously as an attractive location for economic development projects. What about refashioning those enterprise zone laws to specifically create rural enterprise zones that eliminate and reduce regulatory constraints and provide the kinds of sales tax exemptions and refundable tax credits the state is doling out to Foxconn?

What about a substantial and specific commitment to develop the broadband, rail, and road infrastructure so necessary for economic development? What about mandating that a specific proportion of state economic development dollars (also known as corporate welfare) come north of Hwy. 29?

Then there's the environment. Environmentalists are absolutely right to scream about the favored treatment Foxconn is getting, including an exemption from requirements to prepare environmental impact statements, exemptions from DNR permitting requirements related to discharging dredged or fill material into wetlands, and having the DNR waive its water quality certifications for wetland discharges.

What about giving proposed economic development projects in the North those same exemptions? What about exemptions for proposed economic development projects in the North from onerous shoreland zoning requirements that make sense in polluted urban areas but not in the pristine North?

The environmentalists have half a point, which is: It would seem that a large project such as Foxconn would need more scrutiny under environmental laws, not less.

To which we add the second half of the logic, which the environmentalists omitted: If these laws aren't needed to protect the environment when such a massive project as Foxconn comes along, then maybe they aren't needed for anybody or any projects at all.

Fair's fair.

And the end of the day, we hate such crony capitalism. How many property owners and businesses have been ruined, or never got off the ground, by senseless environmental and other government regulations? Too many to count, and then the government turns around and lets a giant corporation have its way with the Earth.

Outside the industrial southern part of Wisconsin, the state puts its boots to the throats of property owners and business owners and dares them not to comply. To a big globalist company like Foxconn, the state pays them not to comply.

And when Gov. Walker and his GOP cronies open the floodgates of tax dollars to fund projects that likely will never create the kinds of jobs they say they will, those are our tax dollars the state is taking from us even as they strangle our ability to create prosperity for ourselves.

Yes, in the end, we still, for now, live in a crony capitalist world. So, at the very least, as they cast their votes for a significant amount of corporate welfare for a foreign company, we hope to hear Sen. Tiffany and Rep. Swearingen stand up and ask the question:

What about us? We demand a fair and level playing field for the North.

We can't wait to report on the bold initiatives we expect these lawmakers to propose in the coming weeks as they stand up and fight for their constituents.

After all, if it's good enough for Foxconn, it's good enough for us.





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