MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers said Wednesday it’s “unrealistic” to think that Foxconn Technology Group will employ 13,000 people in Wisconsin as originally promised and that he wants to renegotiate the contract with the global electronics leader.
Evers told reporters that the state was working with Taiwan-based Foxconn to look at revising the original contract for the proposed facility to build liquid crystal display panels because it “deals with a situation that no longer exists.”
As word of Evers’ statements circulated through the state Capitol, Republican legislative leaders accused Evers of potentially reneging on the existing contract and jeopardizing jobs.
“Gov. Evers appears hell bent to kill thousands of direct and indirect Foxconn jobs throughout Wisconsin,” Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, said.
Wanggaard said Foxconn has made a re-commitment to Wisconsin despite attempts by Evers to “chase them out.”
“Now Gov. Evers is trying to drive Foxconn out of Wisconsin by unilaterally renegotiating the contract between Foxconn and the state,” Wanggaard said.
The existing contract has sufficient protections for taxpayers, Wanggaard said.
“The contract is simple,” Wanggaard said. “If Foxconn doesn’t perform to its obligations under its contract with the state, Foxconn it doesn’t receive any incentives from the state. If Foxconn underperforms, it leaves incentives on the table.”
Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Salem Lakes, said Evers’ statement “doesn’t help our state’s job creators.
“We need to continue to make Wisconsin more attractive to corporations who can choose to locate their jobs and operations anywhere in the world,” Kerkman said. “We need to make sure that our state government has the reputation of holding up their end of the bargain.”
Like Wanggaard, Kerkman said the agreement already protects taxpayers.
“The simple truth is that the Foxconn contract is structured as a ‘pay-as-you-grow’ plan,” Kerkman said. “No state incentive money goes out the door until the jobs are created or shovels are in the ground.”
President Donald Trump has touted the Foxconn project in Wisconsin as a sign of the return of manufacturing to the United States. It would be Foxconn’s first manufacturing facility outside Asia, but skeptics have questioned the project that was announced more than a year ago.
Under terms of the original deal struck by Evers’ predecessor Gov. Scott Walker, Foxconn could get more than $4 billion in tax credits if it employs 13,000 people and invests $10 billion in the state.
That deal was roundly criticized by Democrats, including Evers, as being too favorable for Foxconn. The incentive package was the largest of its kind in U.S. history for a foreign company and the biggest ever in Wisconsin.
Sen. Robert Wirch, D-Somers, said Evers has “the best information” on the current Foxconn plans.
“He has a direct line to Foxconn and Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation,” Wirch said. “With that, he will negotiate a deal that is best for the environment and the taxpayers of Wisconsin.”
Foxconn, the world’s largest provider of electronics equipment, has repeatedly insisted that it will meet the original investment and employment targets, even as the scope of the project has been reduced.
Last month, Foxconn said it would begin construction later this year on a Generation 6 factory, where it would produce small screens for cellphones, tablets, televisions and other devices. Foxconn initially said it was going to build a larger Generation 10 plant that would have produced screens three-times as large.
Evers was asked Wednesday if he still thinks Foxconn will employ 13,000 people in the state.
“I think at this point in time that would be an unrealistic expectation when they’re downsizing the footprint of what they’re doing,” Evers said. “So, 13,000 people as Foxconn employees is probably difficult to imagine for me right now.”
Evers said he didn’t know what a more realistic number would be.
“Less, that’s for sure,” he said.
The reduction in the size of the project means changes must be made to the contract that was based on Foxconn building a larger facility, Evers said.
“Clearly the deal that was struck is no longer in play,” Evers said. “It’s our goal to make sure that the taxpayers are protected and environmental standards are protected and we believe that we need to take a look at that contract and see if it needs to be downsized as a result fix it.”
A Foxconn representative had no immediate comment.