Evers says 'no decisions' made on changes to Foxconn deal

April 25, 2019

MADISON Foxconn Technology Group has not detailed what changes it wants to see in its contract with Wisconsin for a project that could employ up to 13,000 people, Gov. Tony Evers said in an interview Wednesday.

Foxconn insists it remains committed to a $10 billion project, while saying it is also looking for "flexibility" in the deal struck with much fanfare in 2017 and heralded by President Donald Trump as the "eighth wonder of the world."

Evers told The Associated Press that no decisions have been on what could be changed in the contract.

"It's just that they have asked that we take a look at the contract and we're going to do that," he said.

Evers, a Democrat, disagrees with Republican legislative leaders over the extent to which the company wants to renegotiate its contract with the state for a project that could net Foxconn more than $4 billion in tax credits.

Evers campaigned as a skeptic of the project against then-Gov. Scott Walker, who made the deal. Evers said last week that the current deal is "no longer in play" because Foxconn is building a smaller display screen factory than the one envisioned in the contract. Evers also said he doesn't think Foxconn will employ 13,000 people, which necessitates changes.

"Clearly they're going to be producing something different than what they originally proposed," Evers said in the interview. "And as a result of that there have been discussions about how that impacts the deal, the contract."

He wouldn't talk about what might be altered, but he and other critics have said the level of credits for Foxconn are too high.

Foxconn did not hire enough people last year to collect its credit for employees, leading some to speculate it may want to lower the employment benchmarks.

"I'm not going to make any guesses as to what their negotiating strategy should be or what they should be asking for," Evers said.

Foxconn, in a statement late Tuesday night, said the company "has never wavered from our commitment to our contract" and said the talks with Evers were more about creating flexibility within the current agreement.

Performance-based state tax credits are the core of the contract. Foxconn earns jobs and capital investment tax credits for meeting benchmarks each year. It can earn $1.5 billion in tax credits if it hires 13,000 people making an average salary of $53,875. Foxconn would get an additional $1.35 billion in tax credits if it spends $9 billion on capital investments, primarily building construction and the purchasing of machinery and equipment.

Evers also said that Foxconn executive Louis Woo met with Republican legislative leaders and told them of Foxconn's intention to suggest changes to the agreement. Republicans have been highly critical of how Evers has dealt with Foxconn, saying he is "undermining" the deal reached before he took office.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said there was "no discussion" during the meeting with Foxconn's Woo about opening the contract for renegotiation. And Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, whose district includes the project, said he's not interested in making "wholesale changes" to the contract.

"If they come to us and want some minor tweaks, as long as the job goals and taxpayer protections remain, I'm open to listening to their ideas," Vos said Wednesday.

Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach said he thinks Evers is dealing more in reality on Foxconn than Republicans "because that was their baby."

Evers says he holds no grudges with Republicans

MADISON Gov. Tony Evers says he holds no grudges with Republicans who control the Legislature, even as both sides continue to fight in court and have found little common ground early in the Democrat's administration.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Wednesday told The Associated Press that Evers should stop "obsessing" over what happened in the lame duck legislative session and move on to forge a working relationship with Republicans.

Vos says Evers needs to "move beyond the grudge."

In response, Evers tells AP he holds no grudges and routinely meets with Republican lawmakers. He says, "I haven't noticed anybody holding grudges against me."

Evers downplayed Vos's comments as "huff and puff." He says, "That's how people act within the bubble that exists around the Capitol."

Evers 'disappointed' pardons board not yet revived

MADISON Gov. Tony Evers says he's "disappointed" that his administration has not yet revived a pardons review board nearly four months into his term.

Evers promised during the campaign to once again issue pardons after Gov. Scott Walker refused to consider anyone for a pardon or commutation of prison sentence during his eight years in office.

Evers told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday that his team of three attorneys hasn't had enough time to tackle the issue, in part because it's been working on legal challenges to the lame duck legislative session Republicans convened in December.

Evers says he hopes to have a pardons board in place by the summer, calling it "exceedingly important" to get it going. Evers calls it a "top priority."

As of late March, more than 1,000 people had contacted Evers' office inquiring about pardons.

Republican leaders say Evers' pot proposal to be snuffed out

MADISON, Wis.  Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' proposal to legalize medical marijuana and small amounts of recreational pot will not pass the Wisconsin Legislature, Republican leaders of the budget-writing committee said Thursday.

"It's really off the wall scary," Sen. Alberta Darling, a River Hills Republican, said of Evers' proposal at a WisPolitics.com luncheon attended by lobbyists, Capitol insiders and other power brokers.

"What is scary," countered Evers' spokeswoman in a statement later, "is Republicans' complete and total disregard for the will of the people."

Evers included the pot legalization plan as part of his two-year state budget proposal that is pending before the Joint Finance Committee. Under his plan, medical marijuana would be legalized and possessing, manufacturing or distributing up to 25 grams of recreational pot would be decriminalized.

Evers has pointed to public support for legalization, increased tax revenue that would come in and the benefit of medical marijuana to the help it could help as reasons to legalize it. The most recent Marquette University Law School poll put public support for medical marijuana at 83 percent and 59 percent for recreational pot.

Democrats have been trying every session for the past 10 years to get some form of marijuana legalization passed as other states have moved forward. There is a separate bill this year by Democratic Rep. Melissa Sargent to fully legalize marijuana for all uses, medical and recreational.

Thirty-three states including neighboring Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois have legalized medical marijuana.

While Darling and Nygren were unified in opposition to the pot plan, they disagreed on Evers' budget proposal to increase the tax on vaping products.

Evers' budget would impose a tax on all e-cigarettes and vaping products equal to 71 percent of the product's list price. The tax rate mirrors the existing rate on traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Darling said she was surprised by the amount of testimony from young people at four public budget hearings across the state about the prevalence of vaping and their desire to clamp down on its use.

But Darling said she favored more education first and the tax increase would not be considered. Nygren, however, said "that is something we will have to arm wrestle on."

He said the 71 percent tax Evers proposed may be too high, but he's open to considering some level of higher tax for the products.

The Joint Finance Committee held its last public hearing on Evers' budget this week and will start meeting to take votes on his spending plan in May. Darling and Nygren said they expect the committees to finish its work in June, in time for the full Legislature to pass the budget by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

However, the question is whether Evers will sign the budget with line-item vetoes of veto the entire plan. If he does that, passing a budget would likely go well past the July 1 deadline. But unlike at the federal level, government in Wisconsin does not shut down during a budget impasse and state spending continues at the current level until a new plan is signed into law.

Nygren said he hoped Evers would sign the GOP-approved budget.

"If it doesn't meet every single one of his objectives is he going to veto it?" Nygren said. "I think that would be foolish."


Associated Press