Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials

Posted August 31

Kenosha News, Aug. 29

Foxconn deal demands due diligence

A development project the magnitude of the $10-billion investment the Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group is anticipating making in southeast Wisconsin doesn't come around very often.

But when it (or a relatively smaller development project) does, the public reaction usually holds to a familiar arc: extreme excitement followed by a healthy dose of cynicism before settling into cautious optimism.

Gov. Scott Walker has touted the "Wisconn Valley" project as a once-in-a-generation opportunity. The 20-million-square-foot-campus would build LCD panels for TVs, computers, the medical field and other uses. The company has said it could eventually employ 13,000. Construction is expected to begin in 2020.

There are two primary concerns with the Foxconn deal: ensuring the Wisconsin taxpayer gets bang for their buck and preventing the corporation from running roughshod over the state's environment.

Whether you believe states should offer tax incentives in an attempt to boost its economy or if the term "corporate welfare" makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up is a discussion for another day. Like it or not, corporate tax incentive packages have become part of the process of luring businesses to a state.

Wisconsin is considering a $3 billion incentive package, which is more than twice as much as the $1.3 billion Nevada offered to electric car manufacturer Tesla in 2015, but pales in comparison to the $8.7 billion Washington gave Boeing in 2013.

An analysis from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau said it will take at least 25 years for Wisconsin taxpayers to break even under the deal as currently constituted.

On Monday, a report commissioned by the Wisconsin Technology Council was released stating economic ripple effect could create an additional 19,000 to 26,000 jobs through growth from the company's suppliers and other businesses in the region. University of Wisconsin-Madison economist Noah Williams, who authored the report, concluded the development could mean a return of $3.90 for every $1 in state subsidy costs. The Wisconsin Technology Council has previously come out in support of the project.

We do know that the technical colleges in the area would have to expand and invest to train the skilled workers needed and that would have additional impact. And it stands to reason there would be other areas of additional growth beyond what Foxconn itself provides. Whether the nearly 4-to-1 return on investment comes to fruition, only time will tell.

Making LCDs often requires heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium, chromium, zinc and copper. In the United States, companies are required to disclose the materials they use. The proposed Wisconsin development is Foxconn's first American venture.

There is a correlation between the Foxconn plant in China and the pollution of nearby waterways.

Many environmentalists are uneasy that the current bill allows Foxconn to discharge materials into wetlands, fill lakebeds to create more land and reroute streams during construction and operation without obtaining permits from state regulators. The bill also waives the need to provide an environmental impact statement.

Gov. Walker countered by stating the waivers are to ensure the construction timeline, but Foxconn would still have to abide by the usual state and federal environmental standards. The legislation requires that for every 1 acre of wetlands that is lost, the company would restore 2 acres of wetlands.

Foxconn reaffirmed late last week that it is committed to "minimizing the negative impact of our operations on the environment," in a statement to The Associated Press.

"In line with this, we will be implementing measures for our Wisconsin campus in areas, including environmentally friendly product design, carbon emission reduction, process management, energy efficiency and resource management, and supply chain management, among others," the company said.

The Wisconsin Assembly passed the incentive package on Aug. 17. The state Senate is expected to to consider and likely pass the bill soon. Then it goes to the Wisconsin Economic Development Council for underwriting and final negotiation with Foxconn.

As legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden espoused, "Be quick, but don't hurry."

Due diligence is and will continue to be critical as this project moves from inception to completion.

We are encouraged that the Legislature continues to seek firm benchmarks between the incentives and job creation. We need to learn from the mistakes of other states. Washington watched Boeing cut 15 percent of its workforce since 2013, while continuing to take full advantage of the tax credits given. Creating those protections are essential, whether they are obtained through the legislative process (ideally) or through WEDC's negotiation of the specific terms of the deal after passage.

It is imperative that our government officials deliver the best deal possible for Wisconsin taxpayers while holding Foxconn accountable for its environmental promises.

If those things occur, the Foxconn deal has the potential to be a big win — not only for the company, but for the region's economy and residents as well.


Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Aug. 29

How we can respond to Hurricane Harvey

The first priority, of course, is to reach those still trapped by the rising waters in Houston and south Texas. Get them to safety, and make sure there are enough resources and shelters to adequately care for the thousands who need help. The heart-rending images of streets and homes filled with water, of nursing home residents sitting in waist-high water in their facility and of families desperately seeking rescue are a stark reminder that much remains to be done.

That effort seems to be going about as well as can be expected with good coordination between local, state and federal agencies, starting wiith FEMA, and courageous efforts by rescue crews and citizen volunteers. More courage and work and help is needed. If you can help, please do:

But the loss still will be devastating — is already devastating — and there is still much that authorities don't know simply because they haven't been able to reach the affected areas. We know that Hurricane Harvey has claimed lives; we just don't know the full cost yet.

"We know in these kind of events that, sadly, the death toll goes up historically," Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told The Associated Press. "I'm really worried about how many bodies we're going to find."

This will be a long and terrible road, especially as more water inundates Houston and other areas in the coming days when Hurricane Harvey makes another landfall and then as its remnants head inland.

And after that, after the immediate crisis is over, there are discussions that need to be had.

Did climate change cause Harvey? No, not in a direct sense. Hurricanes have plagued the Gulf Coast for millenia; the deadliest natural disaster to ever hit the United States was the Galveston hurricane of 1900, which destroyed that city and took 6,000 to 8,000 lives.

But climate change, which has heated up the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, may well have intensified Harvey. Cheryl Nenn of Milwaukee Riverkeepers told us in an email, "This is what climate change looks like. More extreme, more frequent and more unpredictable storms. Houston has had six 100-year events (probability of 1% per year) since 1989 and two 500-year events in the last two years. That's unprecedented and could be the new normal for many coastal areas. This could cost tens of billions or more."

And David Roberts notes on Vox how climate change may have affected Harvey: "First, it raised sea levels more than half a foot in recent decades. Higher seas mean more storm surges. Second, it raised the temperature of the water in the region, which means more evaporation and more water in the air."

Clearly, Harvey sends the message that the Trump administration needs to reassess its laissez faire stance on climate change.

A roundup of commentary written by our opinion editors hits your inbox every Tuesday covering local topics of interest from the right, center and left.

Beyond climate change is the question of too much development done too quickly and with too many impermeable surfaces that channel more water into flood-prone areas, an issue that is becoming critical in Wisconsin, too.

Kevin Shafer of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, told us: "Our society is not built to manage a storm of this magnitude. It is too large to build for and overwhelms everything. ... However, if we get homes and businesses out of the floodplain, preserve open space in low areas, take steps to reduce impervious cover, manage some water where it falls and try to work with nature, I think we can reduce the storms' long-term impacts.

Todd Ambs of Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition told us that "something like 400-500 square miles of wetlands" have been lost in the Gulf in the last 40 years, mostly due to development. "Those wetlands absorb storm surges like Harvey's and would have reduced the impact. I don't know what the number is but there certainly are a lot more square miles of impervious service in the Houston metropolitan area than there were 40 years ago. That, of course, exacerbates the flooding."

So how do we respond to Harvey's devastation? First, by helping the victims. But then let's move quickly to a discussion of the impact of development and how we can do it smarter. And to a discussion of how we deal with climate change and its effects. Harvey shows us that such discussions and a consensus on what to do are long overdue.


Wisconsin State Journal, Aug. 30

Transparency remains elusive under President Trump

In some ways, the Trump administration is the most transparent ever. America — and the rest of the world — regularly get an unfiltered glimpse into President Donald Trump's mind via his Twitter feed. He tells us more than many people probably want to know about his thought process and his knowledge of current events — or lack thereof.

The president also loves to divulge sensitive information. Just ask the Russians he met in the Oval Office, where he boasted about highly classified information about an Islamic State threat in a way that may have jeopardized an Israeli intelligence source. Or ask Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. President Trump told him about the location of two nuclear submarines near North Korea during a phone call.

Combine that with a staff that leaks like a post-iceberg Titanic, and it all adds up to a painfully transparent administration.

But when it comes to actual policies regarding the free flow of information that ought to be public, Trump's record on transparency is even worse than President Barack Obama's — and that record was very bad.

Seven long months into his term, President Trump has yet to release his tax returns — and has repeatedly made clear he has no plans to do so. This makes him the first president since Richard Nixon to withhold such basic information about where his income comes from.

Despite unprecedented and ongoing conflicts of interest, the public knows next to nothing about Trump's business dealings and the widespread entanglements they represent.

But Trump's opaqueness about his private business dealings are just the beginning. He clearly doesn't understand that, as president, his business is now the public's business. Time after time, he has taken the side of secrecy.

President Trump's executive order on ethics, for instance, removed the requirement that waivers to his policy be publicly disclosed. The Office of Government Ethics even had difficulty obtaining them. And no wonder — Trump has given out more waivers from his ethics policy to staff members in his first few months than Obama did over two terms.

The Obama-era practice of releasing White House visitor logs was quickly abandoned. Republicans and Democrats alike in Congress have complained about the withholding of documents and refusal of administration officials to answer questions. President Trump shuttered the portal that provided easy access to financial disclosure forms and other data. The Trump administration even treats the president's golfing habits as a state secret.

In 2012, Trump called out his predecessor in a tweet, "Why does Obama believe he shouldn't comply with record releases that his predecessors did of their own volition? Hiding something?"

How about it, President Trump? Hiding something? This isn't how democracy works. This is how democracy dies.



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