New Foxconn Contract: Who’s Lying This Time

Recently Governor Tony Evers announced that he wanted to renegotiate the Foxconn contract because they weren’t going to be able to meet their promise to employ the 13,000 people as originally promised. And of course the GOP Leaders in Madison got all apoplectic (i.e Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald). They accused the governor of trying to undermine the Foxconn project and unilaterally trying to reopen the contract. It didn’t get much meaner…

And now The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel publishes a new article quoting a letter from the governor to the leader of Foxconn reaffirming that Foxconn approached the state to renegotiate the contract. And that Foxconn had notified the Republican leadership if their intent…and that this all happened last month!

A top official with Taiwanese tech giant Foxconn Technology Group told Gov. Tony Evers and legislative leaders in March that the company wanted changes to the $3 billion contract with the state, the governor said Tuesday.

In a Tuesday letter to Louis Woo, special assistant to Foxconn chairman and CEO Terry Gou, Evers for the first time acknowledged that it is Foxconn that is seeking to modify the state’s contract and not Evers.

Are we having fun yet? And of course the apoplexy in the GOP leadership ranks remains unabated but shifts focus! Sen. Fitzgerald is saying he knows nothing about it…and Rep. Vos is concerned that the governor won’t be able to protect Wisconsin taxpayers. WTF…right?

“I met with Louis Woo for thirty minutes and there was no discussion about opening up the contract for renegotiation, just general discussion about Foxconn’s expansion and growth,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. 

Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer said Vos told Woo in March he was willing to “provide flexibility” to Foxconn as it seeks to create jobs in Wisconsin.

“If Evers wants to change (the Foxconn agreement), the taxpayer protections need to remain,” Vos said in a statement.

So who is lying here? It appears that the GOP has known for nearly a month that Foxconn was looking for changes. Yet they remained silent about that and reaffirmed their talking points from the original 2017 negotiations. And now when the new environment has light thrust upon it, Sen. Fitzgerald plays dumb and Rep. Vos once again disses the governor without fact.

Quite frankly I would let the current contract alone…it obviously isn’t favorable to Foxconn in its current form or they wouldn’t want to rework it. And the GOP is still apparently in love with it, so let the chips fall where they may.

But it really is time to hold Rep. Vos and Sen. Fitzgerald accountable for the gridlock in Madison and their continued animosity toward the new governor.

Gov. Evers Shouldn’t Waste His Time on Foxconn

It’s become painfully apparent to nearly everyone in the Sate of Wisconsin that the Foxconn development isn’t going to be the project described in the contract that former Governor Scott Walker signed with the company. With that in mind Governor Tony Evers wants to negotiate a new contract with Foxconn.

Gov. Tony Evers said Wednesday he wants to renegotiate the state’s contract with Foxconn Technology Group and emphasized the Taiwanese company won’t be creating 13,000 jobs in Wisconsin as originally envisioned.  

“Clearly the deal that was struck is no longer in play and so we will be working with individuals at Foxconn and of course with (the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.) to figure out how a new set of parameters should be negotiated,” Evers told reporters in his Capitol office. 

He said it was premature to say what specific changes he would be seeking. Under existing deals, the state and local governments could provide the company up to $4 billion to establish a massive facility in Racine County and create up to 13,000 Wisconsin jobs.

“All’s we know is that the present contract deals with a situation that no longer exists, so it’s our goal to make sure that the taxpayers are protected and environmental standards are protected,” he said. “And we believe we need to take a look at that contract and see if it needs to be downsized as a result.”

Let’s not waste our time and money. If Foxconn doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain, the state’s promises to provide tax credits aren’t going to happen.

And then there’s the headache of push back in Madison. We are already seeing enough Republican recalcitrance around the budget and the bad blood that developed around the lame duck sessions, laws and now court cases that we don’t need to jump into this mire. It just isn’t worth it.

Besides, as Assembly Majority Leader Robin Vos said:

…(he) was glad the state has an “ironclad contract” with the firm.

So governor…let it go. When they don’t hold up their end of the bargain…the state, Racine County, the Village of Mount Pleasant, and the residents of Wisconsin who were displaced and lost their property, sue them. Because…you know…the contract is ‘ironclad’. End of story.

So let’s not spend anymore political or real capital on this issue. Let’s just watch the whole thing implode.

Once hailed as “transformational” by former Gov. Scott Walker and other advocates, and touted by President Donald Trump as the “eighth wonder of the world,” the Foxconn project has been drawing increasing skepticism for the last year as the company shifted its stated plans.

First came a sharp change in the proportion of factory workers to engineers. Then Foxconn gradually acknowledged that it would not build the massive “Gen 10.5” flat-screen plant specified in its contracts with state and local governments, but rather would construct a smaller, less costly “Gen 6” facility.

Earlier this year, it looked like the company might back away from building any sort of factory in Wisconsin — news that prompted Trump to get on the phone to Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou, quickly followed by a public pledge by the company to forge ahead with a Gen 6 plant.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald needs to get over himself and sit down and shut up just once:

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald ripped into Evers’ latest comments, saying they showed the Democratic governor “wanted to undermine the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation from day one.”

“If the state is willing to renege on its commitment to Foxconn and open up a contract without agreement by both parties, then what guarantee can Wisconsin make to any other company that wants to expand here?” the Juneau Republican said in a statement.

Yes, the new governor campaigned on replacing WEDC…but has since backed away from that position…and Sen Fitzgerald, et al, poisoned that well with the lame duck laws. But if you have kept up to date on the Foxconn news, the governor isn’t/hasn’t reneged on the contract…Foxconn has…and the governor wants to document the new reality. Except there really isn’t going to be one.

And remember when I said just above, that nearly everyone knew this had become a hoax? Well here are the hand full of players who haven’t gotten it yet: Sen. Fitzgerald of course and his buddy Rep. Robin Vos and Rep. Van Wanggaard of Racine:

… the governor is “hell bent to kill thousands of direct and indirect Foxconn jobs”

Knock knock: (crickets)

So let’s get on with governing…work out the budget…fix our education issues…fix our infrastructure issues…guarantee clean water…and let Foxconn fail.

And meanwhile back at what’s left of the ranch:

Asked for reaction, a Foxconn spokeswoman had not responded by Wednesday evening.

UPDATE 4/18/19 7 PM:

Foxconn on Thursday reiterated its pledge to create 13,000 jobs, a commitment the company has stuck with through multiple changes to other aspects of its plans.

On Thursday, Foxconn issued a statement pledging to create jobs in Wisconsin.

“Foxconn remains committed to our contract with the State of Wisconsin, as well as continuing to work with Governor Evers and his team in a forthcoming and transparent manner,” the company said in its statement. 

Two industry experts on Thursday speculated that the manufacturing plant itself could require as few as 2,000 employees.

And Rep. Robin Vos remains in La La Land!

Solar Power: Be Careful What You Ask For.

Solar power is one of the major renewable energy sources being touted and rapidly developed for replacing carbon based power generation systems. Yes, by all means, once the panels are built, they seem to be carbon neutral. A good thing…but let’s not pretend that solar power is benign.

Just recently the Wisconsin Public Service Commission approved two large solar power projects for Wisconsin. One near the driftless area and one near Two Rivers.

Wisconsin will produce five times as much power from the sun, by one estimate, with the addition of two solar projects approved Thursday.

The two projects are projected to cost $390 million.

Wisconsin had about 103 megawatts of solar power at the end of last year, estimates Renew Wisconsin, which promotes renewable energy.
The two projects approved Thursday, by comparison, will add a total of 450 megawatts of generating capacity.

That’s enough power for roughly 120,000 households.

Hey, cool right? Well maybe. And the PSC is watching costs so that consumers don’t end up paying exorbitant rate increases to fund construction of these solar farms. But there’s that one word in my previous sentence that gives me pause…farms. These installations will consume a significant amount of farm land. So are we adding new pressures on farmers in Wisconsin just when they are already suffering under the strain of low dairy prices, tariffs, flooding, and increased competition? Will farmland become so attractive to solar power advocates that we price our farmers off the land?

He (PSC Commissioner Mike Huebsch) also noted that the two projects will require a total of about 5,000 acres.

“Farming and farmland use is something that is deep in the heart of state, and it is not something we should take lightly,” Huebsch said during the hearing. “This is a significant issue that we need to be cognizant of as we move forward.”

Can we find better locations for solar panels than farmland? Parking lots? Additional rooftops? ??

And I didn’t see anything about an environmental impact study in the article linked above. There will certainly be an environmental impact. We know what wildlife and plant life lives on farms. We know the impact of livestock. We know what crops are grown and how they affect the environment. We watch for runoff. We watch out for wetlands (well except for the former governor). We watch out for woodlots.

But what happens when we replace fields of grain with fields of solar panels? Do we reduce the temperature at ground level significantly enough to change the micro-environment? If you think I am being silly, you certainly have been aware since childhood that standing in the shade of a tree in your yard is cooler than standing in direct sunlight. How does plant life change? You certainly have to provide ground cover beneath the panels to prevent soil erosion…rain water needs to be accounted for and soaked in where ever possible. So what do we need for vegetation? Partial shade plants? Full shade plants? Are there native plants we can use?

Trees??? What about trees? We can’t have them shading the panels or blowing over onto them…or depositing leaves on them. We don’t want to lose one of nature’s most effective carbon sinks.

So when rain runs off the panels, what happens? Do we need landscaping to prevent creating divots under the ends of the panels? Do we have to account for potential riverlets? ??

And if we change the fauna, what happens to other species. What changes in insect life will we see? Additional loss of bees? Butterflies? Will we lose native insects as a food source for native birds? Will we lose birds?

A year or so ago, I saw an article about a solar array going up on acres and acres of desert in the southwest. I had similar concerns then. I know to most of you, that seems like a useless, desolate place. But if you change the temperature at the ground and shade the indigenous plant life, what happens next? Do you change the weather patterns (apparently yes since solar panels are being considered to stop the growth of the Sahara desert)? The flora and fauna there tends to be more specific than what we have in Wisconsin.

I don’t feel the concerns are that big for urban roof tip arrays or those in parking lots. They aren’t changing the flora or fauna of their location. But if we are replacing agriculture with solar panels, what are the potential unintended consequences?

Did We Save UW-Stevens Point On The Backs of Faculty

The University of Wisconsin Stevens Point made national news last year when it announced that it was scaling back liberal arts offerings and eliminating a number of majors. Nobody was giving them kudos at the time but they were struggling under a deficit and declining enrollments.

But not, low and behold, they have weathered the storm and will continue to review and restructure their programs and they aren’t doing it via the original program eliminations.

And just how did they make this miraculous turnaround? Well here’s the feel good version of the story:

After putting majors like history and geography on the chopping block — and in the process drawing national attention to the future of liberal arts education — the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point announced Wednesday it was changing plans.

The university had enough faculty retirements and resignations in the months following the November proposal that it didn’t need to outright cut the programs, Chancellor Bernie Patterson told the Journal Sentinel.

However, it will adjust them.

My question revolves around the resignations…and the retirements. How many of the faculty and staff resigned or retired because of the original announcements and turmoil at UW-SP? Rather than wait and see…did they take an earlier retirement than planned? And the resignations…did they take the logical path and find a new job before they were terminated? To me, this isn’t manna from heaven but a heavy handed way to force faculty out. (I don’t know if the UW works like a business…but if someone resigns they seldom get severance). So did we save the university at the cost of the well being of the faculty?? Well, maybe so:

Mark Tolstedt, a UW-Stevens Point communications professor, characterized the announcement as a double-edged sword. It’s a positive, Tolstedt said, because majors aren’t being eliminated — and more faculty with them. ”It’s also a negative because that’s only in place because so many people have left this campus,” he said.

OK…now that I’ve railed on about the UW-SP mistreatment of faculty, I also wonder about the faculties concern about their students. Just a quick quote from the above link:

“It’s really great news for faculty and particularly students,” Willis (History Department Chair Lee Willis) said.

I really think we should be thinking about students first…

But remember when I said that earlier link was the feel good story? It was published on line yesterday and in the print edition this morning. But this update was published on line just today:

A day after the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point said it would back away from a proposal to eliminate four liberal arts majors, the university released data showing how many faculty and staff positions it had lost to avoid the cuts.

Over a six-year period ending in fiscal 2020, the school expects to decrease by more than 130 full-time equivalent positions. More than 40 of those will come in the next fiscal year alone.

The combination of resignations, retirements, buyouts  and unfilled vacancies will save the university $3.6 million in the upcoming fiscal year, according to university data.

Faculty at UW-Stevens Point say the next challenge will be restructuring departments with fewer people.

“It is true that the retirements and other changes in personnel have helped them in this situation, no question about it, but this is not over and we’re investing in exciting new directions that should stimulate a lot of engagement,” he (UW System President Ray Cross) said.

emphasis mine

So there is some serious faculty kicking to the curb going on. Once again Wisconsin is devaluing education and taking it out on educators. What we’ll see is more part time faculty without benefits…and lack of continuity in the classrooms. And even fewer students interested in pursuing a career in education.

Party On Stevens Point!