MADISON – The state Supreme Court would jump ahead of appellate courts and hear potential legal appeals related to a multi-billion flat screen plant planned for southeastern Wisconsin, under a Republican proposal released Tuesday.
The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee took up a $3 billion incentive bill for Foxconn Technology Group Tuesday as part of a marathon week of action on the subsidy bill and the separate state budget.
Environmental groups have said in recent weeks that they would consider suing over the Foxconn legislation, which already exempts the Taiwanese company from certain state wetlands and environmental rules.
This latest amendment would allow parties in environmental and other Foxconn lawsuits to appeal trial court orders related to the plant directly to the Supreme Court. All lower court orders would be automatically suspended until the Supreme Court weighed in.
Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), co-chairman of the Legislature’s budget committee, said Republicans were trying to do everything they could do to ensure the plant moves forward and creates up to 13,000 jobs.
“This is the most exciting thing to happen to Wisconsin since the cow,” Nygren said.
The Foxconn legislation has already passed the Assembly, but if the budget committee makes changes to it then it would have to pass that house again along with the Senate.
The bill includes up to $2.85 billion in cash payments to Foxconn and a $150 million break on sales taxes for construction material. It also includes exemptions to environmental rules that would allow Foxconn to build in wetlands and waterways without getting state permits.
With such a jam-packed agenda for the Joint Finance Committee, the panel’s Tuesday meeting could stretch into the early morning hours of Wednesday. It’s also possible legislators will break up the meetings so they do some of their work during the day Wednesday or later in the week.
Under the current legislation, the state could pay up to $1.5 billion to Foxconn in proposed cash incentives for job creation over 15 years if the company began hiring and continued to ramp that up.
But Foxconn could receive up to $1.35 billion in separate cash payments if the company invested in the plant and equipment in Wisconsin, even if the plant turned out to be highly automated and employed fewer workers than expected. The deal doesn’t currently contain a minimum number of jobs that Foxconn would have to create to receive payments from taxpayers.
The GOP amendment released Tuesday would require the Wisconsin Economic Develop Corp. to review Foxconn’s progress in creating jobs before paying out these plant and equipment subsidies. But the amendment didn’t include any minimum number of jobs that Foxconn would have to create to earn those cash payments.
The legislation would also exempt Foxconn from requirements to seek state approval for construction activity on some types of wetlands, which can retain storm water, filter pollution and provide habitat for wildlife.
The state exemption could allow the destruction of wetlands that are only regulated by the state and are not connected to a navigable stream, lake or river.
Currently, the legislation would also allow Foxconn to perform construction in waterways without a permit and would waive the requirement for a state environmental impact statement and public hearing.