Political News

Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials

Posted August 7

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Aug. 1

Make sure Foxconn deal meets environmental standards

Just as we urge state officials and legislators to be careful with the financial aspects of the deal that could bring Taiwan manufacturer Foxconn to southeast Wisconsin, so we urge them to be careful on the environmental aspects.

Yes, some breaks under the special electronic manufacturing zone the state will create for Foxconn are warranted, especially those designed to merely streamline the process. But don't let that streamlining result in relaxing the state's standards on air and water quality to the point where serious environmental harm could occur. As with the finances, don't give away the farm (or the CAFO) on a deal that could fail to meet expectations.

State Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), co-chairman of the Legislature's budget committee, told Journal Sentinel reporter Lee Bergquist that the overarching goal is to speed up the state's environmental review of the project so it can get started quickly.

"To be clear, they still have to meet all the federal guidelines," Nygren said.

And a DNR spokesman said Foxconn would still fall under state environmental regulation.

"The bill does not give a company within 'electronics and information technology manufacturing zone' a free pass on the environment," spokesman Jim Dick said in a statement.

"State and federal air, water quality, solid and hazardous waste standards are required to be met."

But environmental groups have started raising objections to the legislative package that would exempt Foxconn from some environmental regulations, Bergquist reported Tuesday.

"The measures exempt the company from state wetlands regulations and an extensive environmental analysis that some other large projects are subject to," Bergquist reported. "The analysis, known as an environmental impact statement, could add up to a year to the company's timetable."

"Rolling back environmental protections to encourage business development in Wisconsin, that's a red flag for us," Jonathan Drewsen, a spokesman for Clean Wisconsin, told Bergquist.

Both Clean Wisconsin and Midwest Environmental Advocates said the package would weaken protections and limit transparency for the project, which is expected to cover 1,000 acres.

They worry that allowing Foxconn to be exempted from state regulations could leave the company free to destroy wetlands that are only regulated by the state — those that are isolated and not connected to a stream, lake or river that is navigable, Bergquist reported.

But the fact that Walker's proposal boosts the amount of wetlands compensation the company would be required to make is good news. State officials say Foxconn would be required to create new wetlands as a ratio of 2-to-1 — two acres of wetlands would be created for every one acre lost. Under current law, the ratio is 1.2 acres created for every acre lost.

And, of course, where the facility will be built will make all the difference. Foxconn has yet to choose a site.

Still, although much remains to be settled, lawmakers should pay attention to the environmental concerns. And it's best to address those concerns while the special legislation is being created.

No one wants to stop Foxconn from bringing thousands of jobs to the state. But the governor's office and lawmakers need to ensure that, as with any other company and any other project, there is no irreparable damage to the environment.

___

Wisconsin State Journal, Aug. 6

Don't rush complicated, pricey Foxconn deal

The basic numbers on the state's FoxConn incentives go like this:

The state would give the Taiwanese electronics giant $3 billion in mostly tax credits over 15 years. Besides escaping state income taxes, as most manufacturers in Wisconsin now do, Foxconn would get cash payments from the state treasury even though it didn't directly pay money in.

In exchange for this unprecedented government subsidy to secure a manufacturer in Wisconsin, FoxConn would agree to hire up to 13,000 people at salaries averaging about $50,000 plus benefits.

The state contribution would cover 17 percent of Foxconn's payroll at a massive manufacturing campus in southeastern Wisconsin. And if company employees pay around 5 percent of their income in state taxes, that would leave a 12 percent gap the state would need to offset in other ways to break even.

Gov. Scott Walker's administration insists that difference can be covered — and surpassed — by higher tax collections from the construction of the Foxconn facility and its supply chain.

Yet it's unclear how many of the businesses serving Foxconn will be located in Wisconsin. The maker of display screens for televisions and other devices would be close to Illinois and metro Chicago if it locates in Racine or Kenosha counties. And Illinois expects some economic benefit will come its way in jobs and suppliers.

Most of the analysis of the state incentive package so far has come from a report commissioned by Foxconn. An independent and nonpartisan analysis by the highly respected state Legislative Fiscal Bureau is expected to be released this week.

"Until you have an analysis from Bob Lang," Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said last week of the director of the Fiscal Bureau, "it's pretty hard to even judge the bill."

He's right.

But that hasn't stopped the governor's staunchest allies and political foes from weighing in with starkly different assessments that probably would have been made no matter what the deal called for.

The Walker administration suggests luring Foxconn is a "once in a generation" and "transformational" chance to boost the state economy. The governor's sharpest critics claim the Foxconn agreement is an outrageous giveaway to a foreign corporation.

Reality, no doubt, is somewhere in between.

For the majority of Wisconsin citizens who are more interested in doing what's best for the state than scoring political points, more information is needed. And that will require more time to discover and digest details. The Legislature absolutely should give the public — and individual lawmakers — more time to consider the facts. This is too important to rush. Wisconsin needs to get this right.

The state Assembly held a public hearing last week on the proposal, hoping to move the deal closer to a vote. But Foxconn officials didn't attend, and many questions still need answers.

State leaders should enthusiastically welcome Foxconn to Wisconsin — but not at any cost.

Taxpayers should wait for the Fiscal Bureau's sober analysis — as well as further testimony — before determining if this big opportunity is worth its high cost.

___

The Journal Times of Racine, Aug. 6

Until repeal, Affordable Care Act must be enforced

Opinions on President Donald Trump vary sharply, but we think there's one thing upon which all Americans can agree: The 45th president is not a fan of the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare."

He says it is "hurting people," that it is "imploding," and that we should "let it implode."

What's problematic is, in his apparent desire to "let it implode," he has suggested that he might not enforce the law's provisions.

On July 29, in apparent frustration over the previous day's failure by the Senate Republican majority to pass a bill repealing parts of the Affordable Care Act, Trump tweeted: "If a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!"

These aren't bailouts, Mr. President. These are payments to insurance companies required under the law.

The subsidies, known as cost-sharing reductions or CSRs, total about $7 billion a year and help reduce deductibles and copayments for consumers with modest incomes, the Associated Press reported.

It is true that the payments are the subject of a lawsuit brought by House Republicans over whether the law specifically included a congressional appropriation for the money, as required under the Constitution.

But in the meantime, there are Republicans and Democrats who are fearful of what a withholding of the CSR payments would do to the insurance marketplace.

The Senate's Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, said such a step will make health care even more expensive.

"If the president refuses to make the cost sharing reduction payments, every expert agrees that premiums will go up and health care will be more expensive for millions of Americans," Schumer said July 29 in a written statement. "The president ought to stop playing politics with people's lives and health care, start leading and finally begin acting presidential."

On Wednesday, a bipartisan panel of U.S. governors urged the president to maintain CSR funding.

"The Administration has the opportunity to stabilize the health insurance market across our nation and ensure that our residents can continue to access affordable health care coverage," said a statement by the Health and Human Services Committee of the National Governors Association.

"A first critical step ... is to fully fund CSRs (cost-sharing reduction payments) for the remainder of calendar year 2017 through 2018," the statement said, adding this was needed as Congress and the administration address long-term reform efforts.

The committee is led by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican. Earlier this year, the governors sent a letter calling on Congress to fully fund the cost-sharing payments.

Some Congressional Republicans have joined Democrats in urging Trump to continue the payments, Reuters reported. Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health Committee, said Tuesday the president should pay the subsidies through September while lawmakers work on bipartisan legislation to fund the outlays for another year.

The president, like any other American, is free to express himself, to give his opinions on any matter he chooses.

However, as president and the head of the executive branch of the federal government, he must enforce all federal laws, regardless of his opinions about them. When the two houses of Congress send him bills to repeal or alter existing laws, he has the choice of signing the bills into law or exercising his veto power.

If an ACA repeal bill is delivered to his Oval Office desk, President Trump can sign it into law; we have reason to believe he'll do just that. Until then, he's obligated under Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution — "he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed" -_to enforce "Obamacare."

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